USDA announces awards, available funding to support agriculture education


WASHINGTON, March 16, 2016 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced awards totaling more than $4.5 million to support college and university faculty who develop innovative projects that advance agriculture and science education. An additional $4.5 million will also be available for new projects that will prepare the future agri-science workforce. These awards are made through the Higher Education Challenge (HEC) grants program, administered by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

"With more than 60,000 jobs opening up in the agriculture industry in the next five years alone, funding higher education projects and programs that increase the skill and preparation of students is an essential step to filling those jobs with the next generation of agriculture professionals," said Sonny Ramaswamy, NIFA director.

Projects and research that receive HEC funding address a state, regional, national, or international educational need; involve a creative or non-traditional approach that may serve as a model; encourage and facilitate better working relationships in the university science and education community and the private sector; and result in benefits that last beyond the project duration and USDA support.

NIFA has awarded more than $34 million to the HEC program since 2009 to ensure that quality training and education continues and progresses for higher-education agriculture and science students. Fiscal year 2015 awards include:

  • Alabama A&M University, Normal, Ala., $135,076
  • University of Delaware, Newark, Del., $134,546
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $47,326
  • University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla., $642,776
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., $134,892
  • University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., $626,856
  • State University of New York, Syracuse, N.Y., $642,811
  • Ohio State University, Wooster, Ohio, $641,739
  • Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Okla., $270,090
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, $270,032
  • Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, $27,062
  • Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, $267,199
  • Grays Harbor College, Aberdeen, Wash., $641,277
  • University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyo., $26,546

Texas Tech University will conduct research to develop curriculum models at three universities for agriculture communications graduates, and share these models nationwide for other programs. A project from the University of Delaware will address textile industry concerns about a lack of qualified employees with expertise in sustainable textile and apparel design to reduce environmental impact of during production, development, and sourcing. A complete list of this year's project descriptions is available on the NIFA website.

Applications for $4.5 million in available HEC funding for the next fiscal year are due April 22. Please see the request for applications for more details. An informational webinar will be held on March 23, 2:00-3:00 p.m. EST to provide an overview of the program.

A May 2015 report released by NIFA and Purdue University showed that there is tremendous demand for recent college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs, with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States. Meanwhile, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually. The report projects almost half of the job opportunities will be in management and business. Another 27 percent will be in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) areas. Jobs in food and biomaterials production will make up 15 percent, and 12 percent of the openings will be in education, communication, and governmental services.

Since 2009, NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.


USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

Media Contact

Amanda Hils
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