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Decline in graduate students a concern for industry

There is a growing concern among employers in academia and industry regarding the adequacy of PhD training programs for animal scientists.

There is a growing concern among employers in academia and industry regarding the adequacy of PhD training programs for animal scientists in the U.S. in terms of the number of graduates as well as their preparedness.

At the 2015 JAM, J.R. Knapp of Fox Hollow Consulting, Columbus, Ohio, shared data from the National Center for Education Statistics and U.S. Department of Agriculture Food & Agricultural Education Information System that show the number of PhDs awarded from animal, dairy and poultry science departments has declined by nearly 40% in the past two decades. She said that currently there are approximately 150 PhDs awarded per year in animal science, 80 to 90 of whom are U.S. citizens. While some non-citizens may seek employment and stay in the U.S., he noted that the majority return home.

The decline in graduate students is associated with decreased funding for animal agricultural research, the declining numbers of animal science faculty at land grant universities, increased undergraduate enrollment, and the expansion of departmental programming to meet changing societal demands, Knapp said. Although a recent National Research Council publication noted that agricultural research funding to the land-grant universities has been flat in real dollars, she said, the reality is that less funding is available to principal investigators (PIs) to support their research programs and graduate training now than in the past due to increased indirect cost rates charged by universities as well as expansion in administrations. Also, whereas graduate assistantships from formula funds and tuition waivers were the normal way of funding graduate training in the 1980s, today PIs often must cover tuition, stipend, and benefits from their research funds at costs of $50,000 to $70,000 per graduate student per year.

The likelihood of increased federal funding for agricultural research and graduate training in the future is low, and new approaches to funding and operating graduate training are needed, according to Knapp. Industry will need to take a larger role in these approaches.

Also, significant redundancy exists among the land-grant agricultural experiment stations and regionalization would lead to more efficient use of limited research funding. Consistent availability and effective use of funding for graduate training will be needed to increase the number of animal science PhDs to a sustainable level, Knapp concluded.

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