Thinking outside the box meant looking just outside campus for the University of Mount Olive, a private institution rooted in liberal arts tradition.
“We’re the only private institution in the state to offer Bachelor of Science degrees in multiple areas of agriculture,” says Dr. Sandy Maddox, chair of the Division of Agriculture at the University of Mount Olive (UMO). “There were visionary leaders here who made the decision to commit to agriculture because of our location. You take a map of North Carolina, and look at where a majority of cash sales from agriculture comes from. It’s right here.”
As of 2002, UMO began to offer a four-year agribusiness degree, an unprecedented move among the state’s private institutions. Steady growth since shows impressive change in just over a decade. As of early 2015, the university consolidated faculty teaching agriculture courses into a “Division of Agriculture.” Student enrollment in agriculture programs has escalated to 130, which accounts for 13 percent of the university’s traditional student body. And university leaders indicate the Division may advance in the near future to a “School of Agriculture,” with additional faculty and an even deeper commitment to agriculture studies.
“A class of 60-plus freshmen enrolled in agriculture in 2015-16, indicating an explosive growth trend, worthy of the ‘School’ designation,” Maddox says. “It also exhibits that UMO stays in-tune with the industry and remains committed to preparing skilled employees for the surrounding agriculture community.
“We don’t intend to compete with the land-grant universities,” she says. “Our goal is to offer a high-quality education that prepares the students academically and prepares them as highly trained employees after graduation.”
UMO’s smaller student body, at about 1,000, remains a significant element that attracts students interested in a tight-knit campus.
The university offers four agricultural degrees: agribusiness, ag education teacher licensure, ag education outreach and development, and ag production systems. The ag productions systems degree welcomes transfer students and soon will include expanded tracks of study.
The campus’ agricultural facilities continuously grow and improve. An agricultural mechanics shop, 3-acre arboretum and 70-acre farm provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.
“We are vested in agriculture at the university,” Maddox says. “We have made a commitment to provide students the opportunity to attend the University of Mount Olive and study agriculture, and a commitment to our agriculture community that we are going to be here for the long haul.”