Does the Jack of all trades hold the winning hand?: comparing the role of specialized versus general skills in the returns to an agricultural degree

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2014-01-01
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Economics

The Department of Economic Science was founded in 1898 to teach economic theory as a truth of industrial life, and was very much concerned with applying economics to business and industry, particularly agriculture. Between 1910 and 1967 it showed the growing influence of other social studies, such as sociology, history, and political science. Today it encompasses the majors of Agricultural Business (preparing for agricultural finance and management), Business Economics, and Economics (for advanced studies in business or economics or for careers in financing, management, insurance, etc).

History
The Department of Economic Science was founded in 1898 under the Division of Industrial Science (later College of Liberal Arts and Sciences); it became co-directed by the Division of Agriculture in 1919. In 1910 it became the Department of Economics and Political Science. In 1913 it became the Department of Applied Economics and Social Science; in 1924 it became the Department of Economics, History, and Sociology; in 1931 it became the Department of Economics and Sociology. In 1967 it became the Department of Economics, and in 2007 it became co-directed by the Colleges of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Business.

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1898–present

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  • Department of Economic Science (1898–1910)
  • Department of Economics and Political Science (1910-1913)
  • Department of Applied Economics and Social Science (1913–1924)
  • Department of Economics, History and Sociology (1924–1931)
  • Department of Economics and Sociology (1931–1967)

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Abstract

This paper examines the roles of specialized versus general skills in explaining variation in the returns to an agriculture degree across majors inside and outside the agricultural industry. The focus on returns by sector of employment is motivated by the finding that most agricultural majors are employed in non-agricultural jobs. A sample of alumni graduating from a large Midwestern Public University between 1982 and 2006 shows that alumni with majors more specialized in agriculture earned a premium from working in the agriculture industry, but this advantage has diminished over time. Agricultural majors with more general training earn more outside than inside agriculture, and their advantage has increased over time. During sectoral downturns in the agriculture economy, more specialized majors suffer large pay disadvantages compared to more generally trained agriculture majors and majors in other colleges. These findings suggest that greater levels of specialization may limit a graduate's ability to adjust to changing economic circumstances. Agriculture degree programs could benefit from curriculum innovations focused on developing more generalized skills.

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This is a working paper of an article from American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 96 no. 1 (January 2014): 193, doi: 10.1093/ajae/aat063.

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