COLLEGE STATION — A tradition has been broken at Texas A&M University, but the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences couldn’t be more pleased.
For the first time, women in the entering freshman class of agriculture majors outnumber men. The class of 493 students includes 276 women, or 56 percent.
“It is very exciting to see,” said Dr. Joe Townsend, associate dean and director of student development at the college. “That’s the first time it’s happened in our history, and you can see that women are really holding their own at Texas A&M.”
More career opportunities are probably the main reason for the larger number of women as well as overall growth in agriculture and the life sciences, he said, adding that students realize that agriculture offers a solid career choice because food and fiber industries are so vital around the world.
“Without food and fiber, we don’t eat or don’t have clothes to wear,” Townsend said. “While production agriculture is still the backbone of our industry, most of the occupations these students will go into are not traditional production agriculture.”
Supporting industries that need skills in everything from biochemistry and genetics to sales and marketing promise exciting career options for both male and female graduates, Townsend noted.
The North American Free Trade Agreement also has stimulated growth, he added.
“When you ask many of our students what they want to do, the first thing they say is ‘international agriculture,'” Townsend said.
For the fall semester, the college of agriculture has 4,359 undergraduates and 1,300 graduate students, for a total enrollment of 5,659.
The college’s growth continues a longer trend of strong and steady increase. Just six years ago, in fall 1988, enrollment was 3,174.
While Texas A&M University saw a decrease of 606 students from the record enrollment of fall 1993, the college of agriculture increased by 158 students, or 3 percent, over the previous fall, Townsend said.
The agriculture college as a whole is 55 percent men and 45 percent women, which closely reflects the ratio of all men and women attending Texas A&M.
The university has 43,256 students this fall, including 24,581 men (57 percent) and 18,675 women (43 percent).
There were 1,085 applications for admission to the college of agriculture, up by 18 percent over the previous year. University- wide, applications increased by 5 percent.
In addition to incoming freshmen, transfer students added 268 new admissions to the college this fall.
Townsend said that women are not just entering the agriculture program in record numbers. Once at A&M, they’re becoming involved in numerous activities.
In fact, he estimated, almost three-fourths of elected leadership positions in agriculture student organizations are held by women.
“They just get in and get with the program. They are doing excellent work on our campus,” he said.