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
Best and Worst Agricultural Schools Rankings
|RANK||University||SCORE||Admissions & Cost Rank||Academics Rank||Outcomes Rank|
|1||University of Florida College of Agricultural and Life Sciences||71.9||8||1||2|
|2||Texas A&M University||67.89||11||2||15|
|3||North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences||63.12||15||4||14|
|5||Michigan State University||60.08||22||3||31|
|6||University of Wisconsin–Madison||57.98||3||16||11|
|7||Iowa State University||56.45||21||11||13|
|8||Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences||56.24||1||8||39|
|9||Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University||55.15||12||12||25|
|10||The Ohio State University||54.9||5||24||12|
|11||Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences||54.47||23||7||30|
|12||University of California at Davis||54.11||25||9||27|
|13||University of Nebraska, Lincoln||54.03||19||18||16|
|14||UIUC College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences||53.44||4||22||23|
|15||University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences||52.72||7||23||22|
|16||University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences||52.7||6||20||38|
|17||Washington State University||52.66||51||6||44|
|18||University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences||50.99||33||10||57|
|19||University of Missouri||50.85||27||21||32|
|20||Oregon State University||50.63||29||14||56|
|21||Mississippi State University||50.63||40||17||33|
|22||University of Kentucky College of Agriculture||50.56||17||15||62|
|23||Oklahoma State University||49.52||38||19||43|
|25||Utah State University||48.1||32||27||36|
|26||Kansas State University College of Agriculture||47.8||68||13||20|
|27||Colorado State University||47.63||28||26||47|
|28||University of Maine||46.88||35||28||42|
|29||South Dakota State University||46.44||42||29||28|
|30||University of Maryland, College Park||46.29||2||49||19|
|31||University of Wyoming||45.17||24||51||5|
|32||University of Arkansas, Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences||45.13||26||25||71|
|33||Texas Tech University||44.83||45||31||29|
|34||California Polytechnic State University||44.35||20||55||8|
|35||Stockbridge School of Agriculture||44.19||9||41||49|
|36||University of Hawaii at Manoa||44.12||43||34||35|
|38||Montana State University||42.96||30||38||52|
|39||University of Idaho||42.84||51||36||37|
|40||University of Delaware||42.53||18||37||67|
|41||North Dakota State University||42.25||36||46||26|
|42||Fort Hays State University||42.11||58||47||4|
|43||University of Massachusetts Amherst||41.32||9||52||49|
|44||Murray State University||40.78||46||42||48|
|45||University of Rhode Island College of the Environment and Life Sciences||40.76||48||35||64|
|46||University of California, Riverside||40.26||39||58||18|
|47||California State University Chico (Chico State)||39.9||56||53||7|
|48||Louisiana State University||39.44||34||48||58|
|49||University of Nevada, Reno||39.37||37||62||9|
|50||Rutgers University, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences||38.96||65||33||51|
|51||Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College||38.34||64||67||1|
|52||Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture||37.95||66||54||10|
|53||Southern Arkansas University||37.69||54||39||63|
|54||West Virginia University||37.25||41||57||53|
|55||Delaware Valley University||35.66||55||32||76|
|56||Morehead State University||35.66||57||40||69|
|57||New Mexico State University||35.4||62||50||40|
|58||Arizona State University||35.23||31||63||41|
|59||North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University||34.73||67||45||60|
|60||California State University Fresno (Fresno State)||33.91||71||68||3|
|61||Arkansas State University||33.89||50||60||55|
|62||California State Polytechnic University, Pomona||33.75||53||72||6|
|63||University of Maryland, Eastern Shore||32.75||75||43||59|
|64||University of Wisconsin–River Falls||31.72||59||66||21|
|65||Missouri State University||31.57||47||71||46|
|66||Eastern Kentucky University||30.95||49||64||65|
|67||Western Kentucky University||30.76||44||65||68|
|68||Alcorn State University||29.44||61||61||61|
|69||State University of New York at Cobleskill College of Agriculture and Technology, Cobleskill, NY||28.84||72||56||73|
|70||Angelo State University||26.44||63||69||66|
|71||Florida A&M University||25.72||76||59||34|
|72||Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University||23.19||70||70||75|
|73||Fort Valley State University||21.64||73||74||54|
|74||Southern University and A&M College, Baton Rouge, Louisiana||21.32||74||73||70|
|75||West Virginia State University||19.49||60||75||74|
|76||Sterling College Rian Fried Center for Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems, Craftsbury Common, VT||18.84||68||76||72|
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:
- 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?
- Considering the pandemic, what are the biggest challenges facing the agriculture industry, and how can agricultural science programs prepare students to address those challenges?
- How can agricultural science colleges adapt their teaching, practices, and professions to meet the long-term challenges posed by climate change?
- What are the three most important considerations for prospective agricultural science students when choosing the right school?
- 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
- Who should consider a post-graduate degree in agricultural sciences and why?
Professor & Head, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Department of Crop Sciences
Professor, Department of Entomology, Cornell University
National Council for Agricultural Education, 2020 President, Director of Undergraduate Programs, Agricultural and Human Sciences, NC State University
Assistant Professor of Sustainable and Urban Horticulture, Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, Texas Tech University
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