Dr. John C. Peterson
Dr. Peterson’s current research efforts are focused upon issues relating to the recruitment of undergraduate students into the Plant Science Major.
Professor John C. Peterson
A Study and Development of an Initiative to Increase Undergraduate Student Enrollment in the Plant Science Major and Specializations.
There has been a decline in students enrolled in horticulture at many four-year universities. This study focused on examining enrollment trends; identifying important prospective student target groups; understanding critical avenues and issues for communication with key target groups; and identifying high impact and effective messaging for prospective University of Florida (UF) students and key people influencing their academic decisions. Research, planning and implementation were conducted to increase enrollment of students into the Plant Science major at UF. Information and data was gathered from university records; faculty, staff and administrator interviews; student focus group studies; from industry leaders; and surveys. Survey work was an online human interface, a modified conjoint six level with a six variable design, and multiple regression analyses. Recruitment into the environmental horticulture area received some focus as this segment has had the slowest recent growth. The greatest opportunity for recruitment was found to be transfers from two-year colleges. Two other pools are science students in other majors and freshman. Identifying the diversity of jobs for four-year horticulture graduates is a key factor. Students and parents must understand post-graduation career pathways, salaries and salary growth potential. Identifying coursework character and sequencing that leads to various professional positions is important. Terminology and semantics, including key words and phrases must be concise, contemporary, and compelling in order to appeal to prospective students. Information must be comprehensible and meaningful to those who have little knowledge of the horticulture and plant science profession. Information should be formatted for rapid comprehension and viewing on hand-held smartphones. Websites, social media and short videos are important avenues for communication. Contact with faculty, graduates, industry stakeholders, and current students are beneficial, as are visits to horticulture educational facilities during campus tours. A clear and concise description of the pathway for the application of freshman and transfer students is needed. For external transfer students, providing early, advance knowledge of required coursework is the most critical issue. Preparing concise and accurate information for parents and individuals who communicate with prospective students is needed. Information for prospective students should project professors as “cool professionals”, rather than intensely academic. Printed collateral material is needed for personal contact. Effective student recruitment efforts must include leadership, a comprehensive commitment of all parties associated with the program and annual funding. Increased student enrollment provides opportunities to sustain or strengthen department support and fill the current and growing industry need for four-year horticulture graduates.