Agricultural Science Majors Hardly a Useless Pursuit

Response from Dr. Thomas Scott, Dean
College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson University
to the January 19, 2012 Yahoo! Education Post:  “College Majors that are Useless”   

On Thursday, January 19, 2012, Terrance Loose’s article “College Majors that are Useless” generated a significant rebuttal from the agricultural community. As Dean of the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson University, I add my voice to the official responses regarding the value of agricultural majors and offer some critical thinking about the entire premise of the article.

In my opinion, the term “useless” is an inflammatory adjective to apply to any career field.  Even with the claims of declining opportunities cited with a simplistic approach to employment data, these numbers in no way indicate any of these majors are “useless.”  Consider the useful nature of the consumables produced by Agriculture, Animal Science and Horticulture majors:  An abundant and safe food supply, fibers for clothing and innumerable materials, stewardship for the soil, water, flora and fauna of our planet.  I believe the majority would strongly agree with me that these benefits are not useless at all. In fact, they are vital! Additionally, whether in the applied sciences, or the creative arts, such as theater or fashion design, the other two useless majors named, it is important to recognize the intrinsic value of earning a bachelors degree.  When students discover a major field of study that matches their skill set, wonder, meaningfulness and passion flourish.  Pursuing a degree in a major you enjoy is transformative and leads to growth, self-expression and an entrepreneurial spirit.  Most agree that in our current culture a key goal of higher education is career development.  However, it is imperative that we never forget that the higher education experience can prepare graduates to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve problems while making a positive difference in the world.  One end result of a quality college degree is a desire to make a useful contribution with one’s gifts, talents, and developed skills.

The response to this article from the agriculture community has been a unified call for clarification.  The numbers and statistics of the agricultural industry can be misinterpreted by the uninformed.  Agriculture is expanding its output to serve an ever-increasing consumer population. Through innovative initiatives the industry has increased productivity, reduced production costs and inputs, while expanding operations that include organic and smaller community-based farms.  In a classic business model, this reduction of inputs to produce greater output is applauded and raises brand recognition.  However, for the industry of agriculture, which stands on the foundation of the American farmer, this success has led to a shrinking demographic of informed participants in agricultural endeavors, which has resulted in a widening agricultural illiteracy gap that was clearly demonstrated in this recent article. American consumers benefit from our industry every day but are often uninformed about the farm-to-table process that ensures these products are available.  I believe it is this lack of understanding and a misapplication of labor data that is at the heart of the article’s misguided assumptions.  I encourage everyone to explore further and discover the vast array of agricultural careers and opportunities available for graduates of agriculture, animal science and horticulture.

As to the direct implications for South Carolina, my argument is this: How can graduates who are employed by South Carolina’s leading industries of agriculture and forestry have no “use” or value when in-depth economic surveys and studies have identified that the agribusiness value chain has a nearly 34 billion dollar impact on the South Carolina economy?  The published study of “Economic Impact of the Agribusiness Industry in South Carolina” provides clear evidence.

What are some of these numbers?

  • Economic Impact - $33.9 billion a year
  • Labor Income - $7.5 billion a year
  • Jobs Created and Supported - 200,000
  • Farm and Forest Land - 17.75 million acres (92% of all the land in SC)

To examine these numbers further and gain a full understanding of the vitality of agriculture, animal science and horticulture, you may view the entire study at the South Carolina Department of Agriculture website.

In closing, I offer these points of consideration that have been recognized by many of my peers across the nation:

  • I encourage everyone to take the time to develop a broader understanding of agriculture as the very food and fiber of our lives.
  • Numerous studies and surveys show that agricultural professionals have a lower unemployment rate than the national average.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture reports that between 2010–2015 there will be a shortage of trained graduates to fill jobs available in the agricultural and food systems.
  • States around the nation, as in South Carolina, identify agriculture as a vital and important economic engine for the state.
  • The problems of tomorrow will produce new areas of opportunity for agricultural science majors, as they produce a greener, healthier, wealthier and tastier future.

As Thomas Green Clemson, our university’s founder, acknowledged nearly 125 years ago in his last will and testament that established Clemson A&M College: “My purpose is to establish an agricultural college which will afford useful information…” In the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson University, our information and our majors are as useful in 2012 as they were in 1889 and are making positive contributions at all levels of our society. 

It is my hope that every citizen, no matter their profession or major studied, will remember the useful benefits of agriculture and the other majors cited in the article as they live their daily lives.  Consider this: The next time you sit down to enjoy a safe and tasty meal, at your cleverly designed wooden dinner table, wearing your fashionable 100% cotton blue jeans, discussing a recent production that you enjoyed at a local theatre, I hope you will understand and appreciate all the values and benefits you receive from those who have majored in agriculture, fashion design, animal science, theater, horticulture or any of the hundreds of college majors available at today’s institutions of higher education.


Dean Tom Scott

Dr. Thomas Scott, Dean
College of Agriculture, Forestry & Life Sciences
Clemson University



Related responses from other professionals:

Agriculture Degrees Are More In Demand Than Ever
Michigan farmer | Feb 10, 2012

College of Agriculture, California State University, Chico.

College of Agriculture, Purdue University
College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois
College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, The Ohio State University
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Iowa State University

University of Kentucky

University of Georgia

National FFA

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Agricultural Science Majors Hardly a Useless Pursuit


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