Colleen Cruz delivers ice cream to Three Rivers Market Wednesday
As UT students return to campus for the start of the spring semester this week, one degree program is showing marked gains in popularity.
Enrollment at the College of Agriculture Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) increased by 32.8 percent from 2006 to 2011, with continued increase this past fall. That statistic tops the national trend of increased agriculture enrollment of about 21 percent growth.
"First of all, it's about food, it's about natural resources. We'll always have to eat, we'll always have natural resources," said UT professor and Assistant Dean of CASNR John Stier.
"We are sending students to conferences their senior year of college, and they're getting two to three offers before they even leave the conference -- sometimes three to six months in advance of graduation! We have students that even get signing bonuses for some of the companies because there has not been enough graduates in recent years," he said.
Industry officials credit the career's success to a growing population that calls for an increase in food production.
Stiers says the starting salary for a recent graduate can reach into $50,000 or more.
Colleen Cruz graduated just two years ago from UT's CASNR program, and works for her family's famous East Tennessee dairy farm.
"That's just really exciting for our future," she said. "And to hear that younger people are excited about farming and agriculture and want to get involved in this field means that we're going to get to supply our food source."
"I think there is this new attention on food and where it comes from," Cruz adds. "The 'buy local' movement has helped our farm and it has helped a lot of other farmers around here and the farmers' markets are getting more popular."
Cruz also represents a growing number of women interested in the agriculture industry. Stiers says about 60 percent of students at CASNR are women, and about 14 percent of students are minorities.