The Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation is attempting to recruit more aspiring teachers into agriculture education by offering a new scholarship and loan-assistance program to Nebraska students, according to a recent story in the Lincoln Journal Star.
The program will pay students in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Agriculture Education Teacher Education program $1,200 for a semester of student teaching, and provide loan assistance over the course of five years after graduation. According to a press release, the amount of assistance will increase each year to encourage new teachers to stay in the profession.
Enrollment in high school agriculture programs is booming in Nebraska, where 13,000 students currently participate at 150 schools across the state. But many programs have struggled to recruit teachers, a problem that has forced 10 schools to delay the start of such programs in recent years.
The state director of agricultural education for the Nebraska Department of Education, Matt Kreifels, told the Lincoln Journal Star that the teacher shortage is “the most critical issue facing agriculture education.” Kreifels said that 21 percent of Nebraska’s agriculture teachers will be eligible for retirement within three years, yet many potential educators are deterred from entering the teaching area because of low salaries. The average starting salary for a teacher in Nebraska is about 30,800, far lower than the national average of about $36,000.
Nationwide, school agriculture programs are gaining popularity in urban and rural high schools, according to a recent story in the U.S. News and World Report. Job prospects for graduates of agriculture programs may be growing too. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that since 2010, more than 54,000 jobs have been created annually from the agriculture, food, and renewable natural resources sectors of the country’s economy.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.