Due to growing interest, UWRF may bring back food science major

Posted March 30, 2016

UW-River Falls is considering bringing back the food science major, which was dropped five years ago.

Despite recent budget cuts, faculty and students Department of Animal and Food Science would like to see the food science major back by fall of 2016. The demand for food science majors is on the rise across the U.S. and bringing the major back could be a huge advantage for the University, its students and the surrounding communities, according to Bonnie Walters, the food science professor at UWRF.

The major was eliminated in 2011. According to Walters, it’s not common to bring back a major that has been discontinued. Since the program ended, there have been some changes in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) which have reopened opportunities that weren’t there five years ago, Walters said.

“Back then, people didn’t know what a food science major was,” she said. Now it has become more popular. Recently, Walters has had more students asking her about the major and if it will ever come back.

There is a sunset period on ending majors. That window of opportunity will expire next year. According to University officials, the major could come back without having to start over from scratch. If the major is reinstated before the deadline, students could be enrolling in the major this coming fall.

In the past, recruitment of students for the major was difficult. With a reduced number of faculty and lower enrollment numbers, there wasn’t much of a choice but to suspend the major, Walters said.

UWRF has seen a reduction in students over the last few years. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of incoming freshmen dropped by more than 20 percent, according to data from UWRF’s Office of Institutional Research. The fall of 2014 saw 978 new freshmen. In the fall of 2015, UWRF saw an increase to 1,033 freshmen. Even more new students are expected to enroll this coming fall. In CAFES, the college only saw a drop in enrollment of a little more than 6 percent.

The public also has a growing awareness of food science. Television shows and new food magazines have helped bring awareness to the degree, according to Walters. Additionally, the ACT and SAT tests added food scientist as an option in the future careers section that students must fill out when applying to take the examinations.

Interest in CAFES is growing, too. The college enrolls 1,341 undergraduate students in 12 different majors. The college boasts of two laboratory farms, a greenhouse complex, food processing plants, specialized laboratory facilities, intercollegiate competitive teams and student organizations. It also has a very successful industry internship program that contributes to the college’s active learning environment, which emphasizes hands-on experiences in real world settings.

“The last student (who) graduated this past December with a food science degree had a job before he graduated,” Walters said. In the past students who graduated with a food science major have had success in finding a job. On average, graduates can expect to earn anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 right out of college. Many students are recruited even before they graduate, Walters said. “Some of them have had some pretty interesting opportunities working in far away places like Italy or California.”

Food science degrees are different from the culinary arts. Food scientists focus on feeding people through food processing and mass production. Many food scientists work with major food companies solving problems, such as finding ways to keep food safe and nutritious, and ensuring safe food packaging practices.

The next step in reinstating the food science major would be for CAFES to bring the proposal to the Academic Program and Policy Committee of the Faculty Senate. If the campus decides to reinstate the food science program, documentation would be sent by the provost to UW System administration in Madison for final approval sometime in June.