Agricultural educators in high demand

Apr 21, 2015

The last time Nebraska had as many agricultural education programs as it does now was 1956. Currently, there are 157 agricultural education programs in Nebraska. Over the last five years, 40 schools have added or are looking to offer agricultural education and FFA programs, including 15 new schools for next fall alone. That is, if those 15 new schools can find teachers, says Matt Kreifels, Nebraska Agricultural Education State Supervisor.

“The problem is there are only four graduates coming into agricultural education,” Kreifels says. Meanwhile, 30% of Nebraska’s agriculture teachers could retire in the next three years. “There is a definite need for more teachers, but there is strong competition for candidates from other agriculture-related fields that are pulling away many students who would be potential agriculture teachers.”

The challenge, Kreifels says, is the looming debt of student loans. According to a survey conducted by Nebraska Agricultural Education staff of teachers across Nebraska in 2014, the average amount of debt for a first-year teacher was $20,200, and the total amount accumulated by all respondents – about two-thirds of agriculture teachers in the state – was over $600,000.

“People have a perception that teachers don’t get paid well. It might not a profession people go into with the perception that they will get rich, but agricultural education instructors typically earn more than other teachers because they have their FFA responsibilities and get paid for the time they put in in the summer months,” Kreifels says. A starting wage for an agriculture teacher might be in the upper $30,000s, or up into the mid $50,000s with a master’s degree, depending on the school district. “Within a short period of time, agriculture teachers can make a comfortable wage. It’s those first five years that are critical in paying off student loans.”

Encouraging careers in agricultural education

That’s why it’s crucial to get agriculture teachers off to a good start. Over the last year, students in Nebraska considering the agricultural education career path have gained additional help to get them started.

Nebraska “Team Ag Ed,” made up of the Nebraska FFA Association, Nebraska Department of Education, the Nebraska FFA Foundation and its corporate partners, including the CHS Foundation and Nebraska Cattlemen Foundation, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Nebraska’s Community Colleges, the Nebraska Agricultural Educators Association, and Nebraska FFA Alumni, is implementing a strategic plan through the State Teach Ag Results (STAR) program to address recruitment and retention of teachers.

As Kreifels notes, “The strategies are pretty diverse.” Recruitment strategies include Teach Ag workshops for high school students and parents, including a workshop at the Nebraska State FFA convention in early April which 120 students attended; recruitment coordinators on campus, and shadowing opportunities. Retention efforts include supporting students studying to become agriculture teachers through internships for agricultural education majors; immersion into agriculture teacher professional development opportunities; and networking to connect agricultural education students with instructors. Current teachers are encouraged to be active in the agricultural education community and are recognized and awarded for excellent mentoring.

It complements the scholarship and loan assistance program started in 2014 by the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture (NFBFA). The program is designed to offer scholarships to students studying agricultural education at UNL while providing a loan repayment program for active teachers based on continued commitment to teaching agricultural education.

“The goal is to help those who have a passion for agricultural education by working to make sure financial reasons aren’t the sole factor students avoid the agricultural education profession or teachers leave the agricultural education profession,” says Richard Herink, Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture board member and president of First National Bank of Lincoln.

In 2014, 12 agricultural education students and teachers from across Nebraska were selected to participate in the scholarship and loan program in 2014. While a one-year commitment, the program offers assistance for the first five years of teaching. “We’re hoping men and women teach the full five years, realize their love for agricultural education, and make it a career choice,” Herink says.

Learn more about supporting agricultural education

To learn more and apply for the NFBFA Ag Teacher Scholarship and Loan Program, visit the NFBFA website. The 2015 application deadline is May 1.

To learn more about the STAR program, visit the Nebraska FFA Foundation website or contact Stacey Agnew at 402-472-5846.

Source: Ag Valley Cooperative