Lake City's high school struggles with low ag enrollment

LAKE CITY, Minn. — Many factors have played a role in what's now a tipping point for the agriculture program at Lake City's Lincoln High School.

This is the third consecutive year that the school board has addressed falling enrollment numbers in agriculture classes, said principal Greg Berge. They've made reductions in staff time and now face the decision of whether to keep offering the classes at all. 

The declining number of total students in the school is probably the biggest reason why less students are signing up for agriculture courses, Berge said March 31 during a community meeting. 

Lincoln will have 581 students in 2011-2012, down from 756 students in 2002-2003.

It's also been difficult to build a popular ag program due to teacher transition. Five agriculture teachers have taught there since 1998. Students who spoke at the meeting said a former ag teacher hurt the program's popularity with students. 


The current ag teacher, John Brinkman, stepped in to teach ag when the previous instructor resigned but Brinkman is not a licensed ag instructor and can only teach ag for a limited time. He is also considering retirement. 

Another reason why less students are enrolling in ag is because the state has increased requirements for certain courses they have to take before graduation, said Berge. 

Kevin Siewert, a dairy farmer and Lincoln alumnus, said he believes all people should be required to take agriculture classes to learn where their food comes from. 

Students would lose hands-on opportunities if the ag program is shut down and FFA members would lose opportunities for leadership development if that program goes down with it, Siewert said. 

Some argue that the school is catering too much to students who will continue on to four-year colleges. Berge said the proposal to cut the agriculture program has nothing to do the school's offering of Advanced Placement classes. 

"We need to prepare students for the world they will be living in, not the world we grew up in," he said.

His presentation stated that over the last 10 years, an estimated 50 percent of Lake City high school graduates went on to a four year college. Twenty percent went on to community college, 20 percent went to a vocational college and others went to the military or straight to the workforce.

The school has strong, hands-on learning opportunities compared to similarly-sized schools in the area through programs for ag, industrial technology, family and consumer science, building trades and work-based learning, Berge said. 


Lincoln has other elective programs that students are choosing over agriculture classes. For the 2011-2012 school year, 415 registrations were made from 9th through 12th grade students for music classes, 401 for foreign language, 230 for industrial technology, 191 for art, 141 for family and consumer science and 71 for business. In contrast, 33 registrations were made for agriculture classes.

Christopher Brown, a junior in the agriculture program, spoke at the meeting because he wants to keep the program and FFA. A guidance counselor told him not to sign up for ag classes because it wouldn't be offered in the future, he said. 

Berge denies that students are being told not to sign up for ag. Both counselors have agriculture backgrounds and would be the last people to do that, he said. 

The school has tried to get more students to sign up for ag classes by continually updating the program. 

Berge is also raising a concern on whether the school will be able to find a high-quality agricultural education teacher if they can only offer a part-time position. He's heard only one applicant applied for past job openings. 

A speaker at the meeting said people are looking for work in the current economy and the school might be surprised at the quality of candidates they find. 

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