Horticulture: The Best Degree to Choose

Horticulture Landscaping Students

NC State horticulture graduates are busy creating and influencing the environments where people live, work and play. In the last academic year (August 2014 – May 2015), 27 students received their B.S. in Horticultural Science, and 11 students received their Associate’s degree in Ornamentals and Landscape Technology from NC State University. This fall’s freshman class looks like it will bring us 12-14 new students. We all know that horticulture is a very rewarding field in which to work. While the work may be hard, the satisfaction is great. Such is the case for students studying horticulture at a university or community college. The struggles with biology, chemistry, and calculus are replaced by the thrill of plant propagation, plant identification, and landscape maintenance and installation. However, a degree in horticulture is  also a smart career move.

A recently published report from the USDA indicates that graduates with a degree in agriculture-related fields (including horticulture) will be in high demand, with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually between 2015 and 2020 (Gallager, Greenhouse Grower, 2015).  Employers are looking for graduates with expertise in food, agriculture, renewable resources, and the environment. The demand for employees may well be greater than the supply of horticulture graduates. This is great news for graduates but not so great news for employers. Here, in the Department of Horticultural Science at NC State, we receive 3-6 job opportunities a week from employers hoping to find skilled employees. We post all of these on our departmental website (http://cals.ncsu.edu/hort_sci/students/career/jobs/) and on a display board in Kilgore Hall. However, we often do not have enough graduates to meet the demand.

Unfortunately, the number of students studying horticulture at NC State has decreased from 200 undergraduates in the 1970s and 80s to 120 in 2015. There are several reasons for the decline in students selecting Horticultural Science as a major. You may have heard about, or even have firsthand experience in, the challenges of being accepted as a freshman at NC State. High school GPAs and SAT scores of our freshman classes are much higher than they were in the 70’s and 80’s. Even some of our alumni with advanced degrees would not be admitted under today’s admission standards. The current landscape of admissions prevents many students with an interest in horticulture from seeking their degree at NC State, even with the local, state, and national reputation of our department. The second reason that high school students do not choose horticulture as a major is because they are not aware of the career opportunities in the field. High school students are not often introduced to the field of horticulture in their classes.

It is up to all of us that work in horticulture to break though these two barriers prohibiting high school students becoming horticulture graduates. In the department, Helen Kraus, Lee Ivy, and Lis Meyer have taken on this challenge, but we need your help. As the undergraduate coordinator, Helen Kraus (helen_kraus@ncsu.edu) works with students attending community colleges to select courses that will transfer into a horticulture degree program at NC State. As the Agriculture Institute coordinator for the department, Lee Ivy (rlivy@ncsu.edu) recruits students interested in a 2-year degree into our Associates degree program. Together Lee Ivy and Lis Meyer (emmeyer@ncsu.edu) recruit high school students. But we can’t do all of this alone. Time and resources do not allow us to travel across the state to talk with prospective students. We need you to be our ears to the ground and our voice spreading the word.  If you hear of a young person with an interest in horticulture, share our contact information with them. If you are willing to do so, visit a career fair, environmental science class, or other high school or middle school career exploration event in your community. For those younger students, you could be planting a seed (pardon the horticultural pun) of future interest. Try to tailor your presentation to fit in with the type of class you visit. For example, if you are visiting an art class, make sure to emphasize landscape design. If you are visiting a science class, emphasize the scientific side of horticulture. These school visits could yield more students for our department, publicize the innovative activities of your businesses, and promote the profession of horticulture.

Another opportunity is to capture short videos of interesting things that your business does and submit them to our departmental YouTube channel. Prospective students could view these, learn about your company and pursue horticulture as a profession. If you are interested in posting such videos, please let us know.

Don’t like to speak in public?  We will help by joining the group via Skype. We are happy to share resources and information packets with you. Need some NC State Horticultural Science swag?  We’ve got that too.

Here are some links that might be helpful to you.

NC State Horticulture YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/HortNCState

Departmental Website: http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/hort_sci/

It is up to all of us to spread the word with young people about the wide variety of opportunities in horticulture. More importantly – help us grow the HortPack! Imagine the difference we can make!