The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the availability of more than $8.8 million in competitive funding to support Hispanic-Serving Institutions' (HSIs) agricultural science education programs. These grants will enhance the ability of these colleges and universities to support underserved students and develop a skilled American workforce.
"The number of jobs available in fields pertaining to food, agriculture, natural resources and the environment are far outpacing the number of students graduating with expertise in those areas. At the same time, the agriculture industry, much like other sectors of our economy, is recognizing that a more diverse workforce will help its businesses thrive," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Hispanic-Serving Institutions can use this investment to increase enrollment in science fields of study, further developing students with the potential to solve society's future agricultural challenges. These fields will only become more important as we continue to develop solutions to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050."
These grants are awarded through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Hispanic-Serving Institution Education Grants Program. The purpose of this program is to support innovative teaching or education applications with potential to impact Hispanic-Serving Institutions to build capacity and then to become models for other institutions that serve underrepresented students, at the regional or national level. While research and extension activities may be included in a funded HSI Education project, the primary focus must be to improve teaching, enrollment, and graduation rates within a degree-granting program. Since 2009, NIFA has awarded more than $58.5 million in funding to this program.
A May 2015 report released by NIFA and Purdue University showed that there is tremendous demand for recent college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs, with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States. Meanwhile, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually. The report projects almost half of the job opportunities will be in management and business. Another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. Jobs in food and biomaterials production will make up 15 percent, and 12 percent of the openings will be in education, communication, and governmental services.
The HSI program follows the NIFA Priority Science Areas, which are considered national priorities:
1. Climate Variability and Change
2. Childhood Obesity and Prevention
3. Food Safety
4. Food Security
5. Sustainable Bioenergy
6. Water for Agriculture
Priority will be given to projects that promote and strengthen the ability of Hispanic-Serving Institutions to carry out education, as determined by each institution, within a broadly defined area of food and agricultural sciences and related disciplines.
Applications for collaboration projects are due Feb. 9, standard applications are due Feb. 10, and strengthening project applications are due Feb. 12. Please see the request for applications for specific program requirements.
Currently, more than 300 HSIs are dedicated to meeting the educational needs of the Hispanic community. These institutions are located in 17 states and Puerto Rico, serving more than two million students in areas with the largest growing Hispanic communities in the country. Previous projects include the Hispanic Public Healthy Nutrition (HPHN) initiative at the University of Illinois that promotes online access to undergraduate- and graduate-level courses to students and experimental learning through internships in an effort to create workplace diversity in the nutritional sciences and public health sector, with a goal of addressing childhood obesity prevention. Project PATH (Plant, Assimilate, Till, Harvest) at Pima Community College works with Hispanic students to increase their awareness of careers in agriculture and increase the number of Hispanic student obtaining post-secondary degrees in agriculture-related fields and entering agriculture-related careers.
Since 2009, NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.