Jan. 31, 2023
CWU Agribusiness program receives $75,000 boost as it continues to expand
The Agribusiness program at Central Washington University is poised to take the next step in its development with $75,000 in federal funding from the recently passed congressional spending bill.
Thanks to the help of U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and nearly two dozen industry leaders across the region, CWU’s newly minted “Ag Biz” program will now be able to develop a third stackable minor/certificate that will eventually be combined with two other certificates as a four-year degree program.
College of Business Dean Jeffrey Stinson said the funding comes at the perfect time for the rapidly growing program, which launched its first minor/certificate in Food and Agribusiness Management and Marketing in the fall of 2021. A second certificate in Applied Agribusiness Technology was introduced last fall, and a third—which will be built around food and agricultural business innovation—is slated for the fall of 2023, pending approval.
“We wouldn’t be able to move toward the stackable degree pathway without this funding, and we are very grateful to our congressional representatives and industry supporters for helping us make it happen,” said Stinson, who also thanked CWU’s government relations team for helping secure the funding from the Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress in December. “There is a huge need, and our industry partners and congressional representatives were absolutely critical to helping us get this grant.”
Stinson added that CWU’s stackable degree model is among the first of its kind in Washington, allowing non-traditional learners to combine their CWU training with their industry experience to earn a bachelor of science degree. Instead of earning their general education (GE) credits first, like traditional learners, program participants can develop their specialization and then pursue the GE credits.
“Once someone earns two of the certificates, we hope they will start to see a pathway to a four-year degree,” Stinson said. “After they complete their industry-specific requirements, they can finish up their general ed classes and then package them together for a BS.”
Senator Cantwell, D-Wash., understands the need for well-trained professionals in the agricultural industry is intensifying every year. She views the federal government’s support of CWU’s growing Ag Biz program as a necessary investment in the economic future of Washington and the nation as a whole.
“Expanding Central Washington University’s Agribusiness program will help grow an agriculture workforce and meet the evolving needs of small and medium-sized farms and agricultural businesses here in the state of Washington,” Cantwell said. “With the addition of two new Agribusiness Certificate programs, CWU students can receive data analytics and business training they’ll need to help our state’s farmers use technology to make smart decisions on how best to grow crops and get those crops to market.”
With the introduction of the Ag Biz curriculum, Central is the only institution in the state that is offering certificates aimed at the business side of food and agriculture through an AACSB-accredited business school, Associate Professor Claudia Dumitrescu said. The industry-driven program gives students an opportunity to learn skills that are immediately applicable to their jobs, while allowing them to develop business and technology skills in farming, processing, and packaging, as well as distribution, sales, and marketing.
Dumitrescu noted that the recent grant will be essential to the long-term growth of the Ag Biz program.
“Without this funding, our growth plans would likely be slowed, creating challenges both for recruitment and meeting workforce needs,” she said. “But now we have the ability to grow sustainably, which will allow us to support the industry’s needs for years to come.”
After only 18 months, the program’s future appears bright. The first certificate, Food and Agribusiness Management and Marketing, launched in the fall of 2021 with 10 students enrolled in the first agribusiness course ever offered at CWU. The same course reached its maximum enrollment capacity of 40 last fall, while 17 students enrolled in the inaugural quarter/course of Applied Agribusiness Technology in fall 2022.
Dumitrescu said that while 25 students are currently pursuing a minor in agribusiness, it’s hard to predict where enrollment will be in a few years since the program is still relatively new. But having this much interest after only one year is promising.
“We are monitoring the core courses that students need to take so we know how many students we need to plan for,” she said. “We appreciate all of the support we have received so far, but we are hoping this new funding will contribute to the sustainable growth of our program.”
Dumitrescu and Stinson applauded the contributions of industry supporters such as the Kobata Foundation, Loftus Labs, Domex Superfresh Growers, Tree Top Inc., John I. Haas Inc., Allan Bros. Inc., and many others who have contributed their time, wisdom, and/or a combined $70,000 to help get the program off the ground.
The Vatheuer Family Foundation recently donated $30,000, while organizations like the Washington State Tree Fruit Association and the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission have offered resources and support throughout the process.
As Stinson explained, the agricultural industry desperately needs the support of higher education as it looks to fill the gap between available jobs and qualified candidates. CWU identified that overwhelming need and has been taking significant steps the past two years to deliver a remedy.
“This is workforce development, and that’s what’s really driving this,” he said. “Like many other industries right now, the ag industry has more jobs than they have qualified people. The reality is that the sustainability of our agricultural systems and food security rest on having employees who possess these specific skills.”
One of the ways CWU’s Ag Biz program has stood out is the experiential learning opportunities it provides for students. Dumitrescu spoke to the value of using High-Impact Practices (HIP) to provide future professionals with the knowledge and practical experience that will help them contribute to a variety of businesses from day one.
“The program gives students the real-world, hands-on experience they need to be successful, but we are also having a positive impact on the food and agricultural business community,” she said, pointing to a “mutually beneficial collaboration” that took place last fall between CWU students and a business in the small coastal town of Raymond. “Being able to offer extracurricular activities to our students has really contributed to their career-readiness.”
Industry partners like Tree Top Inc. in Selah report they are already benefiting from CWU’s effort to train the next generation of ag professionals. Scott Washburn, Tree Top’s vice president of Human Resources, said his company is especially excited about the potential of the second certificate program that was introduced last fall.
“The Applied Agribusiness Technology certificate program will provide a much-needed educational path to provide current and future employees with a practical business understanding of food production, processing, and distribution,” Washburn said. “Tree Top is a proud supporter of Central Washington University and its desire to expand its agribusiness curriculum to address gaps in the agribusiness workforce.”
Loftus Labs is another key proponent of CWU’s work in the industry, and they appreciate the important role the Ag Biz program is filling to address the ever-increasing demand for agricultural employees who are trained in areas such as software development and data analytics.
Dan Maycock, an Advisory and Solutions principal for Loftus Labs, noted that CWU Ag Biz graduates can expect to have a bright future thanks to the training they receive at Central.
“As someone that works alongside farms across the Pacific Northwest, I am very enthusiastic about Central Washington University's efforts to create certificate and degree programs that provide students with the skills needed to work with emerging agribusiness technologies,” Maycock said. “The global agriculture industry will surely benefit from having more graduates from CWU with these skills, and it is great to see both our state and federal government getting behind programs like these.”
Media Contact: David Leder, Department of Public Affairs, David.Leder@cwu.edu, 509-963-1518