Where have all the soils students gone?

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Courtesy of Soil Science Society of America

Where have all the soils students gone? Several articles have been published recently discussing the decline in undergraduate student enrollment in soil science. Those who work directly with these students have known that this trend has existed for many years. At first we thought this trend was temporary. Now we realize that this declining trend is real. The trend is national and international in scope. In the United States the National Academy of Sciences through the National Committee for Soil Science was interested in learning more about undergraduate programs and formed a subcommittee to study the declining enrollment of students interested in soil science.

The results of the subcommittee’s work and other national and international commentaries on this subject lead to this article. Therefore, the article has the following objectives: (1) to present the information obtained by the subcommittee on undergraduate education of soil scientists, (2) to state the perception of soil science, (3) to discuss how the lack of undergraduate students in soil science affects the quality of graduate students, (4) to offer possible ways to increase the enrollment of students in our courses and as majors, and (5) to question the future of our science. This downward trend has a domino effect. With few undergraduate students, graduate students are coming from other disciplines without the foundation soils courses; soil science departments are being eliminated or combined, thus losing identity; employees are not given the title of soil scientist so the public does see this discipline as potential employment; and statistically, the majority of soil scientists are “mature” (>50 years old).

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