The FFA, now known as the National FFA Organization, was founded in 1928 to promote and support agricultural education. It is one of the largest student-led organizations in the world whose mission is to “make a positive difference” in the lives of students by developing their potential for “premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education” (National FFA Organization, 2016a). High school instructors of agricultural education programs, which often include greenhouse production, floriculture, and landscape management coursework, prepare selected students from their programs to compete in regional, state, and national horticulture FFA CDEs (National FFA Organization, 2016b; Petrovic, 2015; Zurko, 2016). In some states, as in Kansas, hundreds of high school students travel each year to a state’s land-grant university to compete in state-level CDEs that are often coordinated by faculty with teaching and extension appointments in horticultural disciplines. State-level CDEs typically serve as qualifying events for selection of the team to represent its state at the national CDE competition held at the National FFA Convention each year. The national floriculture (FLOR) CDE requires students to work individually and in teams to identify plants, solve industry problems, and demonstrate skills in flower arranging and plant growing procedures (National FFA Organization, 2016c). The national nursery (NURS) CDE tests student skills in aspects of maintaining landscape plants and related products, evaluating equipment and services, and landscape design (National FFA Organization, 2016d). The horticulture CDEs evaluate student knowledge on discipline topics through several testing components (National FFA Organization, 2016b, 2016c, 2016d). At the state level, these components typically include a written exam, plant identification, and laboratory practicum tests; this is the procedure for the Kansas state FLOR and NURS CDEs.
Horticulture and some other agricultural disciplines in the United States have struggled with recruiting and retaining an adequate number of student majors in recent years (Dole, 2015; Reed, 2014). Moreover, horticulture departments are disappearing as stand-alone units as they are merged and integrated with other plant-related departments, contributing to concern that horticulture may be lost as a major and career track (Pritts and Park, 2013). Although the enrollment in horticulture baccalaureate programs across the United States has declined, the need for graduates of these programs is higher than ever (Seed Your Future, 2016). It is estimated there are 59,700 agriculture sector job openings available annually, but only 35,400 U.S. students graduating with a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill them [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2015].
At the intersections of art and science, and basic and applied plant sciences, horticulture is a dynamic field that marries plant biology with practical applications in fields including floriculture, ornamentals, fruits, nuts, vegetables, turf, landscape, and public horticulture. Research has shown that high school students participate in FFA CDEs because the event relates to their career choice (Croom et al., 2009) and serves as a means for students to learn industry-specific skills (Jones, 2013; Petrovic, 2015). Jones (2013) adapted the Academic Motivation Scale to assess CDE participants’ level of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, and amotivation with regard to CDE participation in the southeast FFA region of North Carolina. He found students strongly agreed with statements about CDE participation being helpful in finding a future job, improving one’s chances of entering the job market in a desired field, having a more prestigious job later on, and having a higher paying job. Our experience suggests some students participate in CDEs because of their interest, but other reasons, such as high school instructor curriculum preferences and high school curriculum structure, also often impact whether a student may participate in a specific CDE. Jones’ (2013) results supported these observations as he reported that students indicated the FFA advisor plays a key role in recruiting students to participate in CDEs. Jones (2011) findings were similar: advisors serve an important role in student motivation and content competency-building. Harris (2008) concluded high school agricultural education teachers participate in CDEs with which they feel comfortable and are less likely to participate in CDEs with which they feel less familiar.
The first objective of this research was to evaluate previous participants in Kansas’ state-level FLOR and NURS CDEs to determine whether participation resulted in future matriculation at KSU, the host institution. The second objective was to quantify and summarize data about performance of high school FFA programs that generated CDE participants and future horticulture majors. The knowledge from this case study can serve as a foundation to understand how to optimize the potential for horticulture FFA CDEs to be used as a recruitment tool to attract students into undergraduate programs in horticulture.
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