About 3 times a week, Samantha Nigbor takes her parents’ 2006 Chevy Trailblazer out of their family farm and drives to Appleton, Wisconsin, for classes. Rolling fields and small towns pass by on an hour-long tour of Fox Valley Technical College. She often sees deer.

Nigbor, 20, hopes a two-year agriculture degree will bring her closer to her years-long dream: raising deer.

“I’ve been raising chickens since fourth grade. I’ve raised goats since I was in middle school,” Nigbor said. “Deer is the next level I have to get to.”

Two-year colleges have borne the brunt of the higher education pandemic-era enrollment spiral, with enrollment in fall 2021 down 15 percent from less than two years ago.

But program-specific data tells a different story. While majors such as English and physical sciences have shrunk, skilled industries such as agriculture and construction management are booming.

Nationwide, enrollment in agriculture and related science majors at two-year colleges has grown by about 41 percent through fall 2021, the most of any community college program to date, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. largest increase.

For Nigbor, attending Fox Valley Technical College was an easy choice: it wasn’t far from home, offered animal science courses, and gave her a full scholarship. She may also be in and out in two years, ready to take advantage of industry opportunities.

Excluding agriculture, construction saw the second-highest increase in enrolments, up 17.5% from the previous year. Precision production – which includes industries such as metalworking, leather processing and furniture production – rose by nearly 10 percent; machinery and repair technology items rose 7 percent.

Experts say several factors are driving this growth: The tech industry has jobs to fill and often pay well, especially for workers with technical skills. Many of these industries need more people with scientific backgrounds, such as chemistry, engineering and biology. Often, people who are already working are also signing up to acquire new skills.

transfer interest

In agriculture and related fields, the U.S. is expected to provide about 60,000 high-skilled jobs each year between 2020 and 2025, while only about 35,000 students each year earn a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Purdue University.

A 2021 survey by U.S. General Contractors found that 89% of building contractors Efforts are being made to find workers trained for this job.

Community and technical colleges play a vital role in filling these gaps.

Fox Valley Technical College – which has seen growth in its agricultural and construction programs – has not experienced Enrollment plummets during pandemic Like many two-year institutions. The college offers technical diplomas, certificates and associate degrees.

Courtesy of Samantha Nigbor

Samantha Nigbor, a student at Fox Valley Institute of Technology.

Chris Dragosh, associate dean for manufacturing, agriculture and construction technology, said its associate degree in construction management technology has more than doubled in size over the past three years.

Dragosh said there has been a surge in the number of people entering the project who already have expertise in trades such as carpentry or masonry but now want to study project management. He said people wanted more job security because so many workers were laid off when projects were closed due to Covid-19.

“This type of work — construction management — you can do a lot of things from a computer: hold meetings, plan, review specifications, etc.,” Dragosh said. Some technical diplomas, such as electricity and home building projects, also experienced a spike in enrolment.

In agriculture, employers need skilled workers, said Jennifer McIntosh, the college’s associate dean for agriculture and natural resources.

“They’re looking at being able to manage the farm, manage the dairy, manage the herd, and then understand the science behind it,” McIntosh said. “Students are looking for more of the technical side — the science behind what they’re doing, and then really being able to apply it to industry.”

Sarah Mills-Lloyd, lecturer in agribusiness and farm operations, said career prospects in agriculture were bright for students.

Admissions have also become more diverse. More students from urban areas are studying agriculture, Mills-Lloyd said, and the number of women in the program has grown by about 26 percent since 2018-19. Last year, about 54 percent of agriculture students were women.

One of the biggest draws for students is experiential learning, Mills-Lloyd said. The academy has partnerships with local farms and other companies, giving students the opportunity to work with large animals and help with farm production.

Nigbor’s classes sometimes take her to areas where she can handle cows, take her temperature, and inject or inject probiotics. She also learned how to take soil samples in crop production class, something her father often hired to do. Now Nigbor is sampling itself.

She doesn’t have a deer yet, but Nigbor hopes she will achieve her goal soon after graduating in May.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine myself living in the suburbs or going to an office to work,” Nigbor said. “Farm life is mine, that’s for sure.”

It’s not just two-year degrees in the tech industry that are gaining popularity.

Blue Ridge Community College in North Carolina has seen a huge increase in interest in its apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs. These paid courses—including automotive, business and banking, electrical, manufacturing, and plumbing—are free, shorter alternatives to associate degrees.

Students complete apprenticeships with college credit, a relevant certificate, and full-time employment. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of local manufacturers and institutions partnering with the Academy increased from 4 to 24.

“Frankly, we have more demand for these apprentices than the company is currently prepared to meet,” said Benjamin Richter, director of marketing and communications for the academy.

growing opportunity

In California, the community college system lost about 20 percent of its students between fall 2019 and fall 2021, according to a March memo. Enrollment at Allen Hancock College in Santa Maria dropped 8 percent from 2020 to 2021.

But its agricultural science degrees rose 14 percent.

Agriculture business and plant science also grew that year, said Chris McGuinness, a spokesman for the agency.

When Erin Krier was hired about five years ago, the college only offered degrees in agricultural viticulture and oenology. Tasked with adding to the college’s other degrees and certificates, agriculture lecturers say these programs have grown rapidly as the industry has grown.

Thanks to advances in science and technology, there are many high-paying jobs for students interested in computer science, biology, chemistry and business, Krier said.

“It’s not just a farmer,” Creel said. “I have students from all over the place who are interested in jobs, but they see a lot of job opportunities, especially here.”

The extra interest is exciting for students drawn to agriculture before it became a more general field of study.

Montse Zarate’s interest in farming stemmed from the time she spent visiting her parents while working in the broccoli and berry fields in Santa Maria. She recalled frequently asking them questions about berries and vegetables.

“My parents tried their best to answer these questions, but I just knew I had to know more,” Salat said.

Now 19, she is studying plant sciences at Ellen Hancock College. After completing her associate degree, she will transfer to Cal Poly to continue her studies in agricultural sciences. She plans to use berries in the future.

For the first time, Salat said, she was surrounded by other students who were passionate about the same things as her. “It’s really nice to meet other students who want to do what I want or are on this similar route,” she said.