I have been asked, “Is a college degree worth it?” several times over the last nine months while conducting young and beginning farmer/rancher conferences for Farm Bureau and Farm Credit. A common follow-up question to this one is, “Is a degree in agriculture still relevant?”

My answer is based upon my 25 years in academia and working with both the business and agricultural industries. First, a college degree is still useful and is worth it in the long run. That being said, with college and university tuition at many schools increasing faster than the rate of inflation, there are some economic tradeoffs.

Many general education courses can be taken at a community or technical college at a much lower cost. Online courses are now becoming a much more popular method of gaining an economical education. Personally, some of my best education came from classes at two-year schools with lower student-to-faculty ratios and where the concentration was strictly on teaching. A nugget of advice is to select the instructor or professor over the course title. A strong educator can make the difference between a poor and good experience.

Another part of the analysis is to examine your opportunity cost. If you do not go to college, what are your other choices? Whether it is in the locker room or during break at my conferences, many parents are very concerned about the number of young people who decide to live at home with a parent and “do nothing.”

Another reason for obtaining a college degree is the self-discipline it requires to see responsibilities through. Of course, the networking opportunities along with a broader perspective cannot be discounted either.

Finally, is an agriculture degree relevant? Yes, but exposure to the sciences, business, economics and a broad array of communications courses – along with one or two internships – is necessary for a well-rounded education. Agriculture is still a dynamic field on a global basis with as many opportunities as any other field or endeavor.

Food for Thought from the Professor

  • Go for an education, not just a degree.
  • Participate in at least one internship out of state.
  • Participate in at least one internship out of the country.
  • Select the instructor/professor rather than the course.
  • Pick your contacts, networks and friends carefully. Surround yourself with positive role models.
Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at sullylab@vt.edu.