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UNH Student: Cutting 2-Year Horticulture Degree Short-sighted

The Thompson School of Applied Science at UNH will be cutting four programs from its curriculum.

Two-year degrees in horticulture technology, culinary arts and nutrition, civil technology, and integrated agriculture management will not be offered after the 2018-2019 academic year.

All Things Considered Host Peter Biello interviewed UNH horticulture technology student Brooke Wilson about the changes.

(This transcript has been lightly edited.)  

Brooke thank you very much for speaking with me.

Thank you for doing the interview.

So why did you choose to study horticulture technology?

Horticulture technology is emphasis in plant production. And I've just ... you know of course, I loved plants and I realized I didn't know as much about them as I wanted to. And even though I had very minimal knowledge on how to grow things,  I wanted to, maybe not quite an expert, but wanted to work my way into trying to be an expert.

UNH says it is cutting this and three other two year programs because of "consistently low enrollment." What do you think of this decision overall?

I don't think it is a good decision overall, to be honest, and the numbers are probably dwindling because they haven't really done any marketing on it. So, if students who go to the same university don't even know it exists, that's, to me that's a problem. That means you're not doing enough to share it. And in New England alone there's only a handful of programs similar to this. 

So it's also really bizarre that they would be wanting to get rid of it being that they could have - it gives them the opportunity to be the best in New England.

What would you say is the value of a program like the one you're studying in?

The value is the hands-on learning that we get from day one. We are you know in the mess, you know, working with plants and you know going out on field trips, whether they're on campus or off campus,  meeting people in the industry, pretty much from day one, whereas I know a lot of people who have chosen a more academic path, maybe with the four year program, a lot of them don't even get to have any of that kind of experience until their last two years. We're going to be coming out of this program with the skill set to be able to go get an actual, not just a job, but a career in something that is, you know, well-paying.

What are some of the job opportunities available to students who graduate with a two-year degree in horticulture technology?

The majority of the people, I'd say, either a lot of people want to start their own business, to start greenhouses or landscape company, or else they want a higher position, a little bit higher up than a laborer, in some sort of a greenhouse or wholesale. I know there are people interested in putting their foot into the cannabis industry. We have some students that they say that is their goal when they get out, is to be a grower or to work for someone who is growing cannabis. People can be florists. They can work at farms.

What do you think the university is going to lose when these programs go away?

Oh gosh. Well, one thing they're going to lose is a ready work force. In the state of New Hampshire, as far as their agricultural industry goes, at any given time it's usually greenhouse crops, nursery production or dairy. And both of those together account for two thirds of agriculture as an industry in New Hampshire. So they'd be losing those people, you know ready to get into those programs. They'd also be losing some of the programs that the Thompson School has been part of. The hydroponic class in particular has a collaboration with Oyster River School District, where they supply and sell fresh vegetables that they grow. And there's also a collaboration with the community garden in Concord, growing transplants for refugees,  and that would be gone. Our plant sales, they do plant camp. I think that's something that will definitely be lost.

Brooke Wilson is a horticulture technology student at UNH. This is one of the four programs not being offered by the university after the next academic year.

And UNH weighed in on the closure of these four programs to say that:

"The market has changed. There is increased competition and availability in price for two-year associates degrees, fewer students in the applicant pool, and a significant increase nationally in the market for short-term credentials. It is important to note that nothing will change for current Thompson School students. The university will continue to provide the same quality and level of support until every student graduates in 2019." 

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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