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Tennessee Colleges Reach Out to Rural Communities

Middle Tennessee farmers will soon be able to pursue an agricultural degree without having to leave the area, and some scholarship money is available. (Cultivate Oxford/Flickr)
Middle Tennessee farmers will soon be able to pursue an agricultural degree without having to leave the area, and some scholarship money is available. (Cultivate Oxford/Flickr)
June 11, 2018

FAYETTEVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's rural communities have a new lifeline to higher education. This fall, Tennessee State University will offer an Agricultural Science degree program to students in the mid-state farming community of Fayetteville.

The goal is to bring college courses to people who might otherwise be unable to earn a degree to advance their careers and farming opportunities. Dr. John Ricketts, professor of agricultural science at Tennessee State University, said it could be a game changer for the rural community.

"Forty to 60 percent of jobs in the agricultural industry go unfilled, or filled by folks that don't have any training in it,” Ricketts said. “So, it's not good for the industry, it's not good for the economy, and so there's a high demand for students with this Ag Science degree."

So far, at least 20 people have expressed interest in the program. They'll receive some distance learning, as well as in-person instruction from Tennessee State professors.

Prior to enrolling in the degree program, students will first earn a two-year associate degree from Motlow State Community College.

Lisa Smith, assistant dean at Motlow State, said supporting the community will give people in farming careers a chance to excel without having to leave the area, which in turn helps the local economy.

"They can stay close to home, without incurring a lot of possible student loan debt and a lot of expense,” Smith said. “And then with partnering with TSU here, to come to us, these students can remain in the area to complete that four-year degree."

Some financial aid opportunities are available through Tennessee Tech and Future Farmworkers of America. Ricketts said the knowledge students will receive is much-needed in the state's farm industry.

"We'll give these students in Fayetteville the same opportunities that we have here in Nashville, in terms of hands-on learning and being mentored by research scientists,” Ricketts said. “So, we kind of look at it as a total program in terms of, you'll get some lecture, but there's also hands-on, experiential learning that takes place."

Fayetteville is also close to Huntsville, Ala., where there's a growing biotech industry, and the degree program will offer instruction to support careers in that field as well.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - TN