By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Agricultural education at Eastern New Mexico University got a big boost recently when new degree programs were OK’d by the university’s board of regents.
Terry Ervin, chair of ENMU’s Department of Agriculture and Technology and family and consumer sciences associate professor, acknowledged that the changes going on in the agriculture department are a major ground shift.
He said the new degree programs in dairy, range management, pre-veterinary and agriculture education will be factors in that shift from a general agriculture composite degree to a more specialized education in agriculture for students.
“This is typical of a program’s evolution,” Ervin said. “You start with the basics and get more specific.”
Ervin said that ENMU’s leadership made a conscious decision several decades ago to salvage out the university’s agriculture department and shift the support it enjoyed to other programs at the school. The department survived as a skeleton for many years.
He says as the area’s dairy industry began to boom, agriculture education has become more important.
With Ervin’s hiring, as an ag economist, the shift began. But the department chair said it was quickly evident university officials were serious about improving the agriculture program from the commitment they showed.
“The university has been strategically hiring more qualified faculty,” Ervin said. “We’re increasing the backgrounds of faculty to meet the demands of our students. It’s a very smart move on the university’s part.”
Regent Alva Carter, who is in the dairy business himself, said the new direction of the agriculture department will be a big benefit to the area as well as students. He also said it’s important that the university find ways to support and work with the local agricultural community.
“I just think it’s probably one of the best things to happen at Eastern,” Carter said. “We’ve got some really well-qualified faculty now.”
Ervin says ENMU will never be a land-grant university and enjoy the support New Mexico State University has in that capacity, but he believes an agriculture degree from ENMU will soon carry a lot more weight than it has in the past. He says recruitment and placement will improve as well.
“It’s going to be a better draw, because students wanting an animal and dairy science degree can now get that here,” Ervin said.
While ENMU will compete with NMSU for ag students, he said, the changes are coming with NMSU’s blessing and cooperation. Ervin said department heads from the two universities recently met to discuss how they can best coordinate what they are doing.
Ervin said there are currently about 85 students enrolled in course work at the agriculture department. Another 25 are pursuing ag business and are enrolled through the College of Business. He said he wouldn’t be surprised to see those numbers increase exponentially over the next few years.
Along with the new degree programs, regents also approved certificate programs for students who want certification in specific areas, such as artificial insemination, but aren’t necessarily looking for a degree.