TIFTON—For the second year in a row, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College produced more graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Education than any college in the southeastern portion of the United States.
“To the best of my knowledge, ABAC had more Ag Ed graduates than any college or university east of the Mississippi River,” Dr. Andrew Thoron, Head of the Department of Agricultural Education and Communication at ABAC, said.
Dr. Mark Kistler, Dean of ABAC’s School of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said ABAC had 33 Agricultural Education graduates at ABAC’s virtual commencement ceremony on May 7.
“There were 30 in the Education track and three in the Agricultural Studies track,” Kistler said.
That number represents a 27 percent increase over the 26 Agricultural Education graduates at ABAC in the spring of 2019, the first time in its 112-year history that ABAC produced bachelor’s degree graduates in Agricultural Education.
“No other college or university in Georgia had those kinds of numbers this year in Ag Ed,” Dr. Frank Flanders, ABAC’s Ag Ed Program Coordinator, said. “Neither does anyone else in the South.”
Dr. Daniel Foster, Associate Professor of Agricultural Education at Pennsylvania State University, who conducts on-going research into the supply and demand of teachers each year, stated, “ABAC’s 33 graduates this year represent the largest class east of the Mississippi and easily in the Top 5 in the United States.”
The ABAC Ag Ed graduates had an online pinning ceremony on June 14. A person in each graduate’s “watch party” did the Ag Ed pinning honors.
“ABAC is happy to try to end the 30-year drought of Ag Ed teachers in Georgia,” ABAC President David Bridges said in May 2018 when the Agricultural Education teacher preparation program at ABAC became fully approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. “For 30 consecutive years, Georgia has produced fewer Ag Ed teachers than spots available. We are going to do something about that.”
ABAC has done just that.
“The curriculum approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission was designed with careful attention to producing graduates who are prepared for the diverse middle and high school agriculture programs,” ABAC Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Jerry Baker said. “We designed the curriculum to include sufficient technical content as well as the required pedagogy.”
The Georgia Professional Standards Commission also approved a certification-only option for ABAC that allows students who complete bachelor’s degrees in other areas to return to ABAC for two semesters to obtain certification in Ag Education.
“Returning students usually spend one semester on campus and then one semester student teaching,” Flanders said. “They need to have a bachelor of science degree in agriculture but a lot of them out there have that.”
The best recruits for the Ag Ed major at ABAC seem to be those students who excelled in their FFA chapters in high school, competing in leadership and career development events. However, Flanders sees new faces in the program from all walks of life with a wide variety of experiences.
“I tell them if they enjoyed Ag Ed and FFA in high school, they should come to ABAC, get their degree, get their teaching certificate, and then they can enjoy it for the next 30 years and get paid for it,” Flanders said.
Ellen Thompson, Director of the National Teach Ag Campaign, believes opportunities in Agricultural Education will continue to multiply.
“The demand for agriculture teachers nationwide is strong due to new and expanding programs, and current teachers leaving to explore other opportunities,” Thompson said in 2019. “The opportunities for new graduates and those who want to make a difference by being an agriculture teacher are endless.”
Agricultural Education is one of 12 bachelor’s degrees available at ABAC. The others include Agribusiness, Biology, Agriculture, Business, Agricultural Communication, Environmental Horticulture, History and Government, Natural Resource Management, Nursing, Rural Community Development, and Writing and Communication.
Fall semester classes begin at ABAC on Aug. 12 when the college plans to return to in-person instruction. Due to the pandemic, all students at ABAC and at all other colleges and universities in the University System of Georgia took online classes during the final weeks of the spring semester and the entirety of the summer term.