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UMC to drop ag education program

The University of Minnesota-Crookston is expected to drop its agricultural education program at the end of the 2012-13 school year, officials say.

Anticipated state budget cuts force the school to save money, and eliminating the ag education program, though a painful move, has been deemed the fairest way of doing that, says Andrew Svec, UMC director of communications.

He says the decision reflects current economic conditions and isn't necessarily final.

"I hate to be definitive," he says.

But Lyle Westrom, who leads the UMC ag education, says there is little, if any, chance it will get a reprieve.

"This is unfortunate. The program does a lot of good," he says.

He and other officials say ag education teachers -- educators who teach ag to junior high and high school students -- are in short supply in Minnesota and nationwide. The shortage is expected to increase as many older ag teachers reach retirement age.

In theory, the Minnesota Legislature could increase funding for higher education, which could lead UMC to reinstate funding for the ag education program. However, Minnesota's state budget woes are so severe that state government could be forced to shut down.

About half of UMC's budget comes from the state, Svec says.

This is the third straight year the school has been forced to cut spending because of Minnesota's state budget problems, he says.

Last time for new students

As matters stand now, Svec says, this fall will be the last semester that new students are accepted into the UMC ag education program.

Students still enrolled in the program at the end of the 2012 to '13 school year will be able to transfer to the University of Minnesota' St. Paul campus and continue in the program there.

Westrom is the UMC program's sole full-time employee, Svec says.

Westrom says he spends most of his time in the ag education program, but has other duties at UMC as well. He's say he's confident he'll be able to remain at the school after the ag education program is phased out, but that's he uncertain of his long-range plans.

UMC also is planning to discontinue programs in hotel, restaurant and tourism management, and organizational psychology.

Those two programs, along with the ag education program, have relatively low enrollment, and eliminating the programs seemed the fairest way to save money, Svec says.

UMC has no plans to eliminate any of is other agricultural programs, Svec says.

Some people hear that "agricultural education" is being phased out and incorrectly assume that all UMC ag programs will be cut, he says.

Westrom says the UMC ag education program, established in 2000, still is relatively new and interest in it had been growing.

He says he's already from education officials in the region who say the loss of the UMC ag education program will worsen their difficulties in finding ag education teachers.