Majoring in turfgrass science

Students are choosing narrow vocational majors such as “turfgrass science,” reports U.S. News.

In fall of 2005, just before his sophomore year at Pennsylvania State University, (Daniel Hughes) switched his major from education to turfgrass science, a four-year bachelor’s degree offered through the school’s College of Agricultural Science. In that program, Hughes and some 200 other undergrads at Penn State study plant diseases and pest and weed control, along with other courses tailored specifically to managing turf, which is mostly used in golf courses and other sport stadiums.

. . . As of 2004, about 80 percent of all U.S. four-year institutions now offer degrees in practical studies — fields rooted in preparing students for a specific vocation. Studies show that some 60 percent of all undergraduates are enrolled in career-oriented majors, up from 45 percent in the 1960s.

Students may fear their liberal arts degree will prepare them to work as a receptionist, but there’s such a thing as being too specific. Those who spend their college years learning to grow grass may not be prepared to adapt to new challenges — artificial turf? — as time goes on?

They say all our jobs were going to change a half-dozen times in a working lifetime. My old job as a newspaper journalist is vanishing, but I have the skills I learned as an English and Creative Writing major to sustain me. Also, I married an electrical engineer, something I recommend to all English majors.

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Comments

  1. You point out a real danger of these very narrow, occupation-specific majors, but to some extent they’re the result of pushing “college for everyone.” Some students want education/training for a specific occupation, and with the demise of secondary-level vocational training, and the lack of apprenticeship options in the world of employment, how else will students get the training they need?

  2. It seems that turfgrass science is a not very elegant name for an agronomy specialization. Do you have the same objection to pomology or viticulture? Would a Latin based name make it more palatable?

    As for the major being occupation-specific, I suspect it is more industry specific with a sub specialization. I also suspect there is a fair amount of science, biology, agronomy, irrigation technology and economics.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    I looked at Purdue degree in the same field http://www.agry.purdue.edu/turf/academ/bachelor.htm
    It required organic chemistry, biology, calculus, enthomology, and business classes. It seems like an applied biology degrees and was something that universities were encouraging a few years ago.

  4. Much as I hate to point out the obvious, “turfgrass science” is a trade-school subject, not a 4-year academic degree.

    There’s a telling quote from the article:

    “As of 2004, about 80 percent of all U.S. four-year institutions now offer degrees in practical studies—fields rooted in preparing students for a specific vocation.”

    Think “vocational school”.

    This is not meant to put down vocations – trades. We need plumbers, mechanics, drivers, and so on – else our world would collapse.

    The larger question seems to be, “what’s the nature – and what’s the point – of a college degree?”.

    In the Old Days, a liberal education (before the Liberals got hold of it) taught you how to think, how to discriminate and critique, it brought you in contact with the Arts and Sciences, and made you ready to take on the Real World (in all its diversity) and make some sense of it.

  5. “Much as I hate to point out the obvious, “turfgrass science” is a trade-school subject, not a 4-year academic degree.”

    The 4-year private, liberal arts college at which I work awards a very large percentage of these trade school degrees. In 1980, it awarded none of these types of degrees.

  6. superdestroyer says:

    If you look at the degree program at Purdue, the degree plan includes biology, organic chemistry, and calculus. It seems like a specialized agronomy degree with some business classes. http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/oap/majorsminors/TurfScience.asp

    How else would someone get into the field as a manager?

  7. The names sure sound bad, but as superdestroyer points out: at least at some schools it looks like there is more going on under the covers.

  8. ARRGGHHHHH

    Modern agriculture (which turfgrass science is a part of) is a highly complex field that requires a significant amount of biology, botany, financial analysis, chemistry, and economics.

    The major described in the article is has been at that college for almost 80 years. It has evolved from a program that started in the 192s.

    Maybe actual scientific application isn’t as prestigious as contemplating how many angels dance on the head of a pin, but it does save lives.

    “In the Old Days, a liberal education (before the Liberals got hold of it) taught you how to think, how to discriminate and critique, it brought you in contact with the Arts and Sciences, and made you ready to take on the Real World (in all its diversity) and make some sense of it.”

    How do you suppose a manager decides what variety of grass to plant? They look at soil conditions, climate conditions, amount of wear on the grass, amount/quality of water available, cost of available seeds, ability of different varieties to provide different desirable attributes at different costs.

    Why is solving an optimization problem not worthy of study at the college level?

    Why is agronomy (which this degree basically is) not a valid course of study?

  9. So what’s the matter with trade schools? At one local university, the intelligentsia refer to one part of the university in disparaging tones: “Oh, that trade school.”

    That’s the Cornell Hotel School, BTW. A trade school.

  10. “Why is solving an optimization problem not worthy of study at the college level?”

    Because math is *HARD*, and “liberal education” academics can’t balance their checkbooks — and will proudly tell you so, as if it were a badge of honor.

    As for this “vocational school” nonsense, we’ve been hearing that about every ag school for decades now, yet it’s the ag, science, and engineering schools that are awarding the degrees that, you know, actually have some use, and the liberal arts schools that are churning out students with worthless degrees in two-headed disenfranchised lesbian conjoined twin studies.

  11. It’s pretty hard to balance what job skills the market demands, what individual people like learning about, and how to apply the free market to the college education model (even if there are few jobs for it, what if scores of people *want* to learn Turfgrass Science?).

    IMO, if the guy liked what he learned about, finished the degree, and got a job after college making enough money to pay his own bills and pay off his student loans over the next several years, then good for him.

    Universities will offer degrees in subjects that their customers (the students) demand, or that their benefactors (businesses donating money, like lobbysists in Congress) insist upon. Students have to learn to make smart decisions in the balancing act between “what I like to learn about” and “what I need to learn about”.