Kansas State keeps a close eye on declining Grain Science and Industry enrollment numbers
The department of Grain Science and Industry at Kansas State University is in a numbers crunch.
Since the early 1990s, enrollment in Grain Science and Industry has experienced a rollercoaster ride that has prompted department heads to take a step back and reassess the role that each of the department’s three major programs — Milling Science and Management, Bakery Science and Management and Feed Science and Management — are playing in the overall success of the department.
Enrollment in Milling Science and Management, the university’s largest program within Grain Science and Industry, fell to 52 undergraduates in the fall 2003 semester. This total was well off the 10-year peak of 120 students enrolled during the fall 1997 semester.
The Feed Science and Management program also has experienced a fairly sig- nificant fall off since the mid-1990s. Enrollment in the program remained fairly consistent between 48 and 52 students from fall 1994 through fall 1998. As of fall 2003 was at a 10-year low of 26 students.
REDEFINING AN IMAGE
Dr. Brendan Donnelly, head of the Department of Grain Science and Industry and director of the International Grains Program, offered several impressions on why such precipitous declines have taken place during the past 10 years. He cited an image problem for the milling and feed programs as a key factor.
"Students now may have the perception that if they are majoring in milling or feed science they may end up in a mill operation doing a lot of ‘grunt work’ rather than being what they are actually trained to be, which is managers and leaders in the industry," Donnelly said.
"They (prospective students) don’t want to do shift work; they want to immediately go into management," Donnelly said.
The current state of the economy might also be playing a role, he said. "There has been so much consolidation in the milling industry," he explained. "I don’t know if they see that leads to fewer possibilities, but in reality that is not the case. Companies are still knocking on our doors looking for high quality candidates."
A third factor playing a role in the lower enrollment figures might be the decline in rural population and increase in urban population, Donnelly said. "Urban kids are not as readily drawn to milling programs as rural kids," he said. He added that K.S.U. is trying to rectify this last problem by looking into the possibility of providing more financial support for students out of state. Currently, an overwhelming 95% of students enrolled in the Grain Science and Industry program are from Kansas.
There is also a lack of awareness of the programs, Donnelly said. "We need to promote our programs to create the awareness and showcase the opportunities in the milling, baking, feed and allied industries."
A MAJOR DILEMMA
Even while enrollment slips in the department, Donnelly said it could face the added challenge of remaining what he called a "bona-fide" program. "If enrollment drops below certain levels the board of regents can say ‘we can’t afford these academic programs,’" he said.
Donnelly said the department is in the process of discussing the possibility that the three majors could be rolled into one Grain Science degree with a major in one area.
At the end of January, the Grain Science and Industry department faculty submitted a progress report on the enrollment issue to the K.S.U. academic provost, Dr. James Coffman, who is expected to respond by March. The report makes a case to maintain the separate degree programs and it proposed strategies to reverse the enrollment situation.
Ultimately, Coffman will make the final decision on the program structure, but Donnelly expects the discussion to continue.
"Obviously, some of the faculty are concerned about losing program identity," Donnelly noted. "We have a long history with the cereal processing industries and would hate to see these degree programs go away. But in terms of academic requirements … students would still take the same core courses and electives to meet major requirements.
Donnelly also posed another possible way to increase enrollment.
"We could make the 4-year program a 5-year program so that students who really want to go into leadership management positions could major in one of these fields and also get a master’s degree in business, whether agribusiness management or some other form of master’s degree," Donnelly explained. "They would be in a better position to more directly move into management positions if that is their goal. In fact, they may be more attractive as employees to some of these companies."
Another option that would be to offer a 2-year certificate or associate degree in milling or feed science, Donnelly said.
Eric Schroeder is an Associate Editor for World Grain’s sister publication, Milling & Baking News.