MSU’s agricultural technology program sees enrollment spike
MSU’s Institute of Agricultural Technology just graduated its 123rd class. The small-but-mighty program, housed in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, grew to more than 425 students – a 21-percent increase over last year.
IAT has partnered with 10 community colleges and is adding more, said Randy Showerman, director of IAT.
“There is a great need, in Michigan and around the country, for qualified students in the agriculture industry,” he said.
Founded in 1894, IAT delivers educational programs that develop career-ready graduates through intensive, practical learning and skill enhancement in agricultural, environmental and applied technologies.
“As a land-grant university, our goal is to get education to Michigan’s residents. We have the expertise in these largely agricultural skill areas to do that,” said Ron Hendrick, CANR dean. “Community colleges want programs that help students get jobs, and some students, whether by choice or by circumstance, want or need to stay close to home.”
It’s not just about what students want, though. The state’s food and agriculture industry is in need of a qualified workforce. In Michigan, the $100-billion industry supports nearly one million jobs. While Michigan’s agriculture production has expanded, workforce development and places to train those students on the latest equipment have not kept pace, Hendrick said.
Working closely with industry and communities to develop programs that train students in available jobs, such as food processing, is why the IAT was founded, Showerman said.
According to a 2014 Michigan Workforce Development Agency Report, 1,100 Michigan food processors were asked if they anticipate hiring new employees within the next three years.
- 68 percent said yes
- 38 percent experience challenges finding an available workforce with the necessary skills
- 66 percent intend to hire production workers.
Training students for these skilled jobs requires investment in equipment and human resources, Hendrick said.
“When we look at adding a program like food processing, it means we not only add the people who can teach those courses, we have to have the equipment that students will need to understand. Otherwise, we’re doing only part of the job,” he said.
The jobs that students are getting are good-paying jobs in their communities, and can have an economic impact across the state. The average annual salary in fruit and vegetable and meat processing is more than $42,000. For dairy processing, annual salaries are around $58,000, Showerman said.
Steve Miller, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics, estimates that an additional 524 workers entering the workforce after being trained through IAT certificate programs and two-year community college associate’s degrees, in addition to bachelor’s degree programs, can boost the state’s economy by $148 million.
“What’s important about these numbers is where they have an impact in our state – many agricultural operations and food processors – are located in rural areas of Michigan,” Hendrick said. “Adding qualified workers can increase economic viability for some of these communities.”