To address a shortage of agricultural education teachers, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation has begun a program to encourage students to enroll in ag education at UNL. The new program is called the Agriculture Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance Program, which was unveiled during the FFA State Convention in Lincoln this spring.
"Nebraska is facing a critical shortage of agricultural education teachers," says Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture. "The good news is that agriculture education and FFA is expanding in Nebraska. The bad news is that there are not enough agriculture teachers to keep up with the growth. Competition in the market is pulling many students who are potential agriculture teachers into other fields."
Nelson adds, "This new program will help entice students to go into the field of agriculture education and young teachers to stay on this career path. Hopefully, this will help address the shortage issue and keep school-based agricultural education programs strong, vibrant and expanding to more schools."
At a time when Nebraska's population is becoming increasingly urban and disconnected from agriculture, enticing qualified agricultural education teachers to stay teaching, is critical, according to Nelson. "While there are missed opportunities for growth, there is a tremendous risk of not having teachers to fill existing positions for the sake of maintaining the quantity and quality of Nebraska agricultural education."
Since 2011, there have been nine instances of Nebraska schools advertising for an agriculture teacher in an effort to start programs in their schools and there were not enough teachers to fill those positions, says Deanna Karmazin, executive director of the NFB Foundation for Agriculture.
Agriculture teachers often struggle to justify entering a career where their first year's salary is less than their total student loan amount, she says. The average starting base salary for Nebraska teachers is about $31,000. Nebraska agriculture teachers cumulatively possess more than $622,000 in student loans today, she adds.
The Agriculture Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance Program would support both pre-service (student) teachers through a scholarship program and in-service (active) teachers through a loan assistance program.
The Student Teacher Scholarship Program is for students enrolled in University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Agricultural Education Teacher Education program. Students would be eligible to apply for a student teaching scholarship for the value of approximately one-half tuition, or $1,200 for the semester in which the student's student teaching experience occurs.
The Teacher Loan Assistance Program is for current Nebraska ag education teachers who have existing student loans have been teaching between 1-5 years. The amount of loan assistance would increase over the course of the teacher's first five years in the classroom, thus encouraging the teacher to remain in the profession,
"We are starting a Capitol Campaign for the Agriculture Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance Program with the goal to entice more students to stay in Nebraska and teach agriculture, and to keep agriculture as part of the curriculum in our Nebraska schools," Karmazin says. "Agriculture is the number one industry in the state and is responsible for one in four jobs. It's important we encourage students to understand and value the hard work that goes into raising food in Nebraska."
Funding for the program will initially start at about $12,000 for applying students and teachers in August 2014. With a fundraising component built in, we hope to ramp this up to a $35,000 to $40,000 program during the next three years.
"Without agriculture teachers, there is no FFA in the school system," according to Nelson.