Women make up more than half of grads in ag programs

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer

When Tracy Barnes finished college in the early 70s, she was just one of two women in her graduating class to earn a degree in Animal Science. Today her daughters are among a growing class of females entering the industry with their agriculture degrees in hand.

Students learn artificial insemination (AI) techniques in the classroom at NWTC.

“Back then women traditionally sought degrees in food science or wanted to be small animal veterinarians. At that time, those seeking degrees in production agriculture were pretty much men - not that women weren’t already working in production agriculture back on the farm alongside their fathers, brothers or husbands,” Barnes said. “Not only are more and more women graduating with degrees in these once male-dominated fields, they are doing a great job in those careers.”

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, a little over one-third of all degrees earned in agricultural science were awarded to females in 1980. Nearly 40 years later, women make up more than half of the graduates.

This gender shift is also evident on university and technical college campuses across Wisconsin. At UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural & Life Sciences (CALS), the department as a whole has seen an increase in enrolled female students, from 57.2 percent in 2008 to 61.6 percent in 2017.

“The number of enrolled females and female student degree earners in Dairy Science has fluctuated in the past 10 years – with an enrollment high of 72.8 percent to a low of 35 percent,” said Nikki Bollig, assistant dean for academic programs and policies at CALS. “In 2017, 72.8 percent of declared Dairy Science majors were female.”

While the crops/soils and ag business areas are still heavily populated with males, said Tera Montgomery, Associate Professor of dairy and animal science in the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture, more women tend to enroll in the animal and dairy science majors. The school most recently launched the Dairy Science major in the fall of 2016, which has a current enrollment of 65 majors.

“Female students tend to be interested in nutrition and calf/heifer care and management,” Montgomery said.

Dairy instructor Wendy Vandenboom said Northeast Wisconsin Technical College rolled out its Dairy Science program (1-year technical diploma and 2-year associate degree options) in 2017 and will launch the Agronomy Science program in August 2018.

“In our first year of the Dairy Science program we had eight women and one male enroll and in speaking with potential students looking to enroll next year, I would say 80 percent of those will be women,” she said.

Vandenboom says that her female students are looking for many different careers with their Dairy Science degrees.

“One is working at a dairy testing laboratory and another is looking to work in agriculture product sales,” Vandenboom said. “Two are looking to become herdsmen on larger dairies while another is interested in becoming a calf care manager.”

Enrollment of female students in agriculture programs at Fox Valley Technical College has been on an upward trend since the school launched more specialized one-year technical diploma programs - agronomy technician and dairy technician 4-5 years ago. This year students were able to pursue a 2-year Animal Science associate degree.

This year 52 percent of students enrolled in the associate degree program are women while 76 percent of students in the technical diploma programs are female, said veterinarian and FVTC ag instructor Lori Nagel.

“Most of our students that start in our one-year programs tend to stay two years and get the associate degree,” she said.