Best Colleges and Universities for Agricultural Sciences

TV and movies often portray farming as a quiet and simple life: milking cows, feeding chickens, and tending to neat rows of vegetables planted by hand.

But that romantic vision couldn’t be further from reality: Today’s agriculture industry is meticulous, high-risk and intimately tied to global economics and politics. In a word, it’s complicated.

The farming industry is rapidly evolving to address 21st century challenges like a booming population and climate change. And with the onset of gene editing, drones and other high-tech solutions offering big opportunities, tomorrow’s agricultural professionals are guaranteed to look nothing like they do today.

No one knows exactly how agriculture will change in the next century — some researchers are betting on bugs as future crops! The best way to adapt to change is to be well prepared for the field, but not all schools are on the cutting edge of the new green revolution.

When choosing among agriculture programs, however, prospective students need to look beyond innovation. They must also consider a host of other factors, such as affordability, the level of personal attention from instructors and career potential.

To help future leaders of agriculture make the right decision, LawnStarter compared 76 colleges and universities with agricultural sciences programs across 12 key factors, demonstrating their selectivity, academic quality and value for money.

Which schools will grow the next generation of ag professionals to keep the rest of us well fed and growing, too? Read on for the results.

Table of Contents

  1. Best and Worst Agricultural Schools Rankings
  2. Key Takeaways
  3. Ask the Experts
  4. Methodology

Best and Worst Agricultural Schools Rankings

RANKUniversitySCOREAdmissions & Cost RankAcademics RankOutcomes Rank
1University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences71.9812
2Texas A&M University67.8911215
3North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences63.1215414
4Purdue University60.1214517
5Michigan State University60.0822331
6University of Wisconsin–Madison57.9831611
7Iowa State University56.45211113
8Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences56.241839
9Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University55.15121225
10The Ohio State University54.952412
11Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences54.4723730
12University of California at Davis54.1125927
13University of Nebraska, Lincoln54.03191816
14UIUC College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences53.4442223
15University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences52.7272322
16University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences52.762038
17Washington State University52.6651644
18University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences50.99331057
19University of Missouri50.85272132
20Oregon State University50.63291456
21Mississippi State University50.63401733
22University of Kentucky College of Agriculture50.56171562
23Oklahoma State University49.52381943
24Auburn University48.93163024
25Utah State University48.1322736
26Kansas State University College of Agriculture47.8681320
27Colorado State University47.63282647
28University of Maine46.88352842
29South Dakota State University46.44422928
30University of Maryland, College Park46.2924919
31University of Wyoming45.1724515
32University of Arkansas, Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences45.13262571
33Texas Tech University44.83453129
34California Polytechnic State University44.3520558
35Stockbridge School of Agriculture44.1994149
36University of Hawaii at Manoa44.12433435
37Clemson University43.85134445
38Montana State University42.96303852
39University of Idaho42.84513637
40University of Delaware42.53183767
41North Dakota State University42.25364626
42Fort Hays State University42.1158474
43University of Massachusetts Amherst41.3295249
44Murray State University40.78464248
45University of Rhode Island College of the Environment and Life Sciences40.76483564
46University of California, Riverside40.26395818
47California State University Chico (Chico State)39.956537
48Louisiana State University39.44344858
49University of Nevada, Reno39.3737629
50Rutgers University, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences38.96653351
51Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College38.3464671
52Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture37.95665410
53Southern Arkansas University37.69543963
54West Virginia University37.25415753
55Delaware Valley University35.66553276
56Morehead State University35.66574069
57New Mexico State University35.4625040
58Arizona State University35.23316341
59North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University34.73674560
60California State University Fresno (Fresno State)33.9171683
61Arkansas State University33.89506055
62California State Polytechnic University, Pomona33.7553726
63University of Maryland, Eastern Shore32.75754359
64University of Wisconsin–River Falls31.72596621
65Missouri State University31.57477146
66Eastern Kentucky University30.95496465
67Western Kentucky University30.76446568
68Alcorn State University29.44616161
69State University of New York at Cobleskill College of Agriculture and Technology, Cobleskill, NY28.84725673
70Angelo State University26.44636966
71Florida A&M University25.72765934
72Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University23.19707075
73Fort Valley State University21.64737454
74Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana21.32747370
75West Virginia State University19.49607574
76Sterling College Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, Craftsbury Common, VT18.84687672

Key Takeaways

It isn’t called the Corn Belt for nothing

When it comes to a great agricultural sciences education, it’s hard to go wrong with America’s Heartland. Five of the top schools are from Midwestern states like Iowa, Wisconsin and Indiana, which also happened to be among 2019’s top 10 agricultural producing states by cash receipts. Where better to learn about the industry than where it’s a big part of daily life?

Bigger is better

Like any research- and tech-heavy field, agricultural science can be resource-intensive. So don’t be afraid to shoot for a large, flagship school. Eight of the top 20 schools in our ranking are also among the top 20 largest schools by attendance in the country. Sometimes it pays to go big.

The Gulf between us

The majority of our lowest-ranked agricultural sciences colleges are located in Gulf Coast states, while some schools bucked this trend — mostly in Texas and Florida. Each school should be considered individually, of course, but think twice before looking south.

East is least (valuable)

If you’re looking for a good return on investment, steer clear of New England and Mid-Atlantic states. While schools in Delaware or Vermont ranked well on education factors, their high tuition and low median salaries post-graduation leave much to be desired.

Ask The Experts

The study of Agricultural Sciences, like everything else, is undergoing rapid change. From drones monitoring crops to data driving harvests, Agricultural Sciences are getting an infusion of tech.

For insights on how the study of agricultural sciences is changing, we asked agricultural sciences educators these questions:

  1. Which agricultural science professions will have the highest demand in the next 5–10 years and why? Which ones offer the most potential for career growth?
  2. Considering the pandemic, what are the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry, and how can agricultural science programs prepare students to address those challenges?
  3. How can agricultural science colleges adapt their teaching, practices, and professions to meet the long-term challenges posed by climate change?
  4. What are the three most important considerations for prospective agricultural science students when choosing the right school?
  5. Agriculture is not as popular as other majors. How can agricultural science colleges better attract prospective students, especially those from areas where agriculture is not a dominant industry? How can agricultural science colleges stay relevant
  6. Who should consider a post-graduate degree in agricultural sciences and why?

 

Adam Davis

Professor & Head, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Department of Crop Sciences

Arthur M. Agnello

Professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University

Travis Park

National Council for Agricultural Education, 2020 President, Director of Undergraduate Programs, Agricultural and Human Sciences, NC State University

Catherine Simpson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Sustainable and Urban Horticulture, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Texas Tech University

Methodology

To design our ranking of 2021’s Best Colleges and Universities for Agricultural Sciences, LawnStarter first determined three key categories — Admissions, Academics and Outcomes — that prospective undergraduate students consider most heavily, among other factors, when comparing schools.

Across the three key categories, we then compiled 12 related metrics using the most recently available data. (All data are from 2020, unless otherwise noted.) The categories and their corresponding metrics are listed below with the score we assigned to each.

Due to the uncertainty imposed by the coronavirus pandemic on higher education institutions, we assigned a medium weight (7 points) to the Virtual Learning Opportunities metric to emphasize the need for flexibility in the classroom. Not all U.S. colleges and universities that have reopened this fall semester are fully remote, and more than a quarter of college students prefer online-only learning at this time, according to a recent poll.

We then added up the scores across all categories for each of 76 colleges and universities with agricultural sciences programs to arrive at the final ranking, which is based on their overall scores. The highest possible score is 100 and corresponds with a rank of No. 1, or “best,” while the school with the lowest score was ranked No. 76, or “worst.”

Admissions (Total Points: 26)

  • Acceptance Rate: 5 points
  • Scholarship Availability: 7 points
  • Median SAT Score: 7 points
  • Median ACT Score: 7 points

Academics (Total Points: 44)

  • Research Spending: 10 points
    Note: Measures total expenditures on agricultural sciences research (data from 2018)
  • Personal Attention: 10 points
    Note: Measures student-faculty ratio
  • Program Variety: 7 points
    Note: Measures number of agricultural departments
  • Virtual Learning Opportunities: 7 points
    Note: Measures online degrees and courses in agricultural sciences
  • Program Completions: 5 points
    Note: Measures number of bachelor’s degrees in agricultural sciences-related majors awarded in 2018–2019 academic year
  • Advanced Education Opportunities: 5 points
    Note: Measures post-graduate agricultural sciences programs

Outcomes (Total Points: 30)

  • Graduation Rate: 10 points
    Note: Data from 2018
  • Return on Investment: 20 Points
    Note: Measures median salary of agriculture graduate with a bachelor’s degree divided by tuition and fees

Sources: Each college or university website, National Center for Education Statistics, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, and U.S. News & World Report.

Main Photo Credit: DJI-Agras / Pixabay

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