Editorial: Governor’s Schools enhance Pennsylvania’s agricultural strength

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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The agriculture industry in Pennsylvania will soon see another benefit — albeit in the long term — that will assist it in securing a prominent role in the nation’s agricultural output.

Gov. Tom Corbett announced the newest addition to the Pennsylvania Governor’s School of Excellence, a highly touted program that exposes high school students to a variety of fields such as the sciences, technology and other STEM fields. The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Agricultural Sciences will be a month-long program where students will lodge at Penn State University and learn about “the diverse fields of agriculture and natural resources,” according to the program’s application.

While the Governor’s School program was a huge success during its inception under then-Gov. Richard Thornburgh’s tenure in the 1980s, it was ended in 2008 because of budget cuts. Fortunately, the program was reinstated in 2013, and with the addition of the agricultural sciences school, Pennsylvania high school students will be able to further their education in one of the state’s biggest industries.

The PGSAS will offer key skills for students intending to pursue agricultural sciences beyond high school, and the decision to reinstate the program as a whole should be lauded, but there are several concerns that should be addressed for future Governor’s School programs.

In 2012, the Census of Agriculture, administered every half-decade by the United States Department of Agriculture, reported that Pennsylvania housed 59,302 farms spread over 7.7 million acres. What is important is that a large majority of these farms, 46,716 to be exact, have been running for 10 years or more. This statistic is a small testament to the prominence Pennsylvania assigns to agriculture. It’s no surprise why production agriculture and agribusiness contributes nearly $68 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy.

With the installation of a Governor’s School promoting education in the agricultural sciences, the state is allowing students with an interest in the field to gain skills and to learn just how prosperous the field of agriculture is. Beyond Pennsylvania, the field of agriculture is also bursting with opportunity.

What is more, the program allows rising high school seniors to dabble with agricultural research, creating unique projects that will not only help them during their senior year in high school, but also prepare them for college. The research-based projects can provide students with an opportunity to gain a better grasp of the importance of agribusiness to Pennsylvania.

The only concerning aspect of this program is whether or not it will be accessible to all Pennsylvania high school students. It accepts 40 of the brightest candidates across the state. Increasing the size of these programs by offering either a larger class or offering similar class sizes around the state would increase the potential for students who live far from Penn State to apply.

To this end, while the cost of the program — including lodging — is subsidized, transportation costs for the program should be financed by the state as well. This way, a wider group of students can access the program, regardless of their proximity to Penn State or their socioeconomic status.

The Governor’s School program is a valuable resource for Pennsylvania high school students, and with the installation of an agricultural sciences program, students will be exposed to one of the state’s economic strongholds. Hopefully this will only be the first step, though, as the program can only become more successful by extending its reach.

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