Last week Yahoo! came out with an article, "College Majors That Are Useless",  which listed three agricultural-based majors in its top five list.

Little surprise, it ruffled many feathers within the agriculture community. (See Commentary: Useless Indeed.) In fact, by mid-day on Thursday, a Facebook page – “I studied agriculture and I have a job” – was up and running.

AgCareers.com, an agriculture job placement service, released a response with data of its own, illustrating the varied and numerous opportunities ag majors and careers provide.  

Also, the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) has stepped forward, pointing out that students in animal science programs learn skills that are vital in food production and animal and human health. Enrollment in animal science majors is increasing, and job opportunities for animal science majors continue to expand, ASAS points out.

“I couldn’t disagree more with the recent comments in the media questioning the value of animal science degrees. Nearly all animal science departments across the country are experiencing not only growth but expanding placement rates of our graduates. Even during record global economic challenges, animal science majors have been in great demand,” says Margaret Benson, head of the animal science department at Washington State University and ASAS president.

As she points out, animal science is the study of farm animals, companion animals and exotic species. Animal scientists work to improve animal health and food production, and many of them focus on food safety and improving sustainability. Discoveries in animal science also increase understanding of human health, genetics and medicine, Benson adds.

According to Greg Lardy, head of the animal science department at North Dakota State University, “Interest in animal science careers and enrollment in our undergraduate majors continues to expand. In fact, our enrollment is up 28 percent this year.”

Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe, ASAS’ chief executive officer, notes that about 90 percent of university animal science departments have seen increased enrollment in recent years. ASAS has also seen record membership, including more than 5,000 academic and industry professionals. International and student membership in ASAS also has grown.  

Animal science has stayed strong during the recession. Data from the 2009 to 2012 American Community Survey show the unemployment rate for recent graduates with agriculture-related degrees was 7 percent below the national average of 8.9 percent.

Graduates with animal science degrees who responded to a recent Purdue University survey said they used their majors to find careers in animal production, at zoos and the pharmaceutical industry. A degree in animal science also opens doors for additional graduate and professional training in areas such as veterinary medicine, research and education.

“The fundamental goal of animal science is to facilitate the use of animals to meet human needs, whether we are discussing feeding the world or companionship,” Wulster-Radcliffe says.