South Dakota Agricultural education and FFA history: Post-secondary agricultural education programs
Author’s Note:To commemorate the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, Dr. Hanson has written a historical summary of events that occurred in the South Dakota Agricultural Education program. Over a period of time, a series of articles will share how the South Dakota program originated and was developed over the past 100 years.
A previous article on state supervisors made reference to the Smith–Hughes Act that initiated vocational education instruction in local high schools. The next article on teacher education will also begin with reference to the Smith–Hughes Act. This article on post-secondary agricultural education programs, however, will return to discussions held prior to the passage of the historic Land Grant Act.
The term post-secondary education refers to men and women who have graduated from high school but have not yet secured “steady” full-time employment.
Prior to the passage of the Land Grant Act, various approaches to delivering agricultural education to young people were proposed. Two proposals appeared to generate some degree of interest.
One, which proposed educational programs for high school graduates, was the establishment of a school in each federal government House of Representative’s district. Youth living close to the school would travel daily to and fro while those living some distance away would essentially live on or near campus. It is doubtful that any such schools were created in this fashion.
The second concept was the establishment of West Point-like academies in each state. It is also doubtful that any such schools were established.
Before enactment of the Smith-Hughes Act, society had been discussing and attempting to deliver alternative means of agricultural instruction in the country’s high schools.
One idea consisted of agricultural colleges offering high school instruction leading to a high school diploma. The School of Agriculture, South Dakota State College of Agriculture and Mechanics Arts was one of those institutions beginning in 1908 and continuing to 1942. The “Aggie School” was a common term identifying the concept.
At some point in time, it was decided to apply for and receive funding to operate the Aggie School as a high school agriculture department. The exact date of funding approval may not be known, but the program was the third school selected as a student teaching site for the agriculture teacher education majors.
Students belonged to the FFA, but never attended the State FFA convention as their school year was only five months long, and the convention took place outside that time frame.
It can be assumed that the school was discontinued due to the supply and demand for instructors during World War II. Upon reopening after the war, the school started to provide a certificate in agriculture. Due to the continued development of high schools, many of which had vocational agriculture programs, the Aggie School closed in 1960. South Dakota State College decided to discontinue the high school courses and offer a two-year associate’s degree in agriculture as a replacement.
The designers of the Smith–Hughes Act included legislative wording to design education for part-time students to enroll in evening classes or regular classes during the day as time permitted for attendance. One can assume the wording “out-of-school youth” during that era would have included those who did not return to school following an eighth grade education, were unemployed or underemployed.
There is evidence in school reports to the state supervisor of vocational agriculture that efforts to accomplish the above were accomplished in the 1920s in several South Dakota high schools. During the 1921-1922 school year, four instructors conducted part-time classes for out-of-school youth.
In 1923, there was a new attempt in offering part-time opportunities for out-of-school youth. Regular high school agriculture classes were divided into instructional units with out-of-school “boys” enrollment in as many units as time permitted. Such enrollments and offerings, in addition to adult evening classes, were reported in the annual reports submitted by the state supervisor until 1938.
It is interesting to note that federal legislation, the Vocational Education Act passed in 1963, also expanded program offerings to the post-secondary level, grades 13 and 14. Most of the programs have emerged as degrees entitled Associates of Applied Science (AAS).
Michael J. Martin and Tracy J. Kitchel, representing Colorado State University and The Ohio State University, wrote of the development of vocational agriculture before the Vocational Education Act 1963:
“The congressional hearings for the Vocational Education Act of 1963 outlined some of the then-current problems of vocational agriculture: ‘The panel also found that vocational education programs are not preparing people for enough kinds of jobs. One study found that only 10 boys studied agriculture for every 100 males employed in that field” (Vocational Education Act of 1963, p. 39).’”
“This act attempted to rectify these issues, expanding the curricula of vocational agriculture from production agriculture to agriculture-related occupations and ending compulsory, supervised agricultural experience for all agriculture students.”
McCaslin and Parks wrote in “History of Vocational and Technical Education: Current Trends, Preparation of Teachers, International Context”: “Congress recognized the need for a new focus. As a result, the 1963 Vocational Education Act … [funded] the construction of area vocational school.”
Your author was a beginning teacher at this period of time and attending a district Ag teachers’ meeting when a respected and experienced teacher started to rant and rave about the “1963 Vocational Education Act.” The instructor stated, “We are going down the tube, we will never be the same!”
Wow, that was food for a career change.
1963 Vocational Education Act stated that Career and Technical Education be expanded to include more students and expanded the vocational education content for non-college bound students.
For South Dakota, this resulted in establishing technical institutes in Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Watertown, Sturgis and Rapid City. Such action formalized the offering of young farmer and agribusiness classes for men and women, most of whom are recent high school graduates.
Today, after being established over 50 years ago, South Dakota’s young citizens and some mature adults have several agricultural education avenues available in preparation for a career in agriculture.
Technical institute agricultural staff agreed that advisory committees were the key ingredient in creating and implementing the curriculum offered today. Individuals from the agri-business community, production agriculture and education were convened by the technical instructional staff for purposes of reporting current status and requesting input on pending questions.
The instructors interviewed emphatically stated that support from industry was essential. The instructors were appreciative for the materials, supplies, guest speakers, equipment, internship sites, curriculum suggestions and a willingness to serve on advisory committees. The highest level of support evident was the industry’s willingness and eagerness to hire the graduates.
High school teachers benefited from the agricultural technical institute instructors through in-service opportunities and a willingness from instructors to host District FFA Career Development Events.
When asked to describe the nature of the students, one former instructor classified the students as “all of the above.” Instructors shared that most students did not desire to attend college, and young men and women were convinced they would secure sound employment with a more than adequate salary.
When working outside of Brookings, your author worked on the other end of the spectrum and would often receive a request to visit with a student and share what a college degree would look like.
The combination of hands-on experience and a college degree has some advantages. Over the years, several students made the jump, technical degree in hand and completed a four-year degree in agricultural teacher education. In “walking the hallway,” the author recalls several outstanding students with the addition of a four-year college agriculture degree. The students were a blessing to the agricultural industry and education.
The Postsecondary Agricultural Student (PAS) organization was organized in 1977. To some degree it was patterned after the FFA. The PAS organization appears to have developed and matured in the Upper Midwest states. It was determined that the post-secondary students who participated had an advantage when employment opportunities were available.
One former instructor indicated that it was difficult to expand some programs. It was the position of the State Board of Vocational Education that curriculums would not be expanded if employment opportunities were not available. This perhaps limited instructional staff somewhat in “viewing what else is out there.”
One standout feature of the three programs in the eastern part of South Dakota was the 2019 employment follow-up study. The combined total for Lake Area Technical Institute, Southeast Technical College Area Tech and Mitchell Technical College was 100% employment for those available for employment, 95% employed in the field of agriculture, 76% employed in South Dakota and 75% employed in field of agriculture and in South Dakota.
The figures represent Agriculture and Environmental Tech (LATI), Ag Tech and Diesel Power Technology (MTI.) and Horticulture, Landscape and Sports Turf Management Technology (Southeast Tech). The 2019 graduates in the three programs average a starting salary of $17.93 per hour.