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120 years of Short Course

Graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in just 17 weeks!

Nope, it”s not a scam from the classified section of a supermarket tabloid. Since its inception in 1885, nearly 18,000 students have earned certificates from the University”s Farm and Industry Short Course.

Short Course is designed for high-school graduates who want to expand upon their agricultural education but aren”t ready to commit to four years of undergraduate study.

Timing is one key to the program”s success and longevity, says FISC director Rick Daluge. It”s always been offered in late fall and winter, when the harvest is in and things have slowed down on the farm.

The other key is quality – students receive excellent instruction at a research-based institution. They study under nationally known scientists, and their coursework combines cutting-edge scientific knowledge with practical, hands-on experience. Most instructors are College of Agricultural and Life Sciences faculty and staff, with guest lecturers if there”s no CALS expertise available.

“Short Course really exemplifies the mission of the Land Grant university because it provides an education to the common person,” Daluge says. “We don”t have restrictive admission requirements, and about $75,000 in scholarships are available each year. The program attracts all levels of students, academically and socio-economically. We have students from 35-cow farms and students from 1,500-cow farms. Half the learning happens in the classroom, and the other half from the classmates you meet in Short Course.

“We want to maintain the ”flavor” of this program,” he says. “It”s not just about the classes – it”s a residential campus experience. Students stay in the two Short Course residence halls and have everything from a formal dance in spring, to ski trips and other outings, to campus clubs and a dairy cattle judging team. We”re educating the whole person.”

Accordingly, all Short Course program specialties require classes such as rural economic and social issues, farm law, public speaking and communication. “We try to develop leadership and community service – that”s why we have these social-science studies. Many of these students are going to end up serving on school boards, town boards, and other local government,” Daluge points out. Two graduates currently serve in the Wisconsin legislature, he adds.

Short Course students are now in the UW student database, so they register through the same system as undergrads, and instructors and students can use Learn@UW for online coursework. “It”s really a great medium for delivering resource material for students,” says Ted Halbach, who co-teaches two Short Course classes in genetics and evaluation. “I post everything from PowerPoint to homework assignments on the website, and students know they can go there to get the information. They unanimously supported Learn@UW in their course evaluations.”

Short Course students can choose a general program for their four-month session, selecting about 15 courses from more than 40 offerings in crops, soils, poultry, livestock, dairy, agricultural engineering, agricultural economics, communications, and human relations. For in-depth study, they can choose one of six specialties in farm service and supply, grass-based or confinement dairying, crops and soils, farm mechanics, and meat animals/poultry.

About one-third of the students earning one-year certificates return for a second year of Short Course, and about 25 percent of Short Course grads go on to earn undergraduate degrees at the UW-Madison and elsewhere, Daluge says. Graduates can transfer up to 15 credits toward an undergrad degree at the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Short Course enrollment has declined over the past few decades, mirroring the drop in Wisconsin farm numbers. About 170 students attended in 1984, compared with about 100 in 2005. America”s Dairyland went from 43,000 dairy farms to about 15,000 during those years; today, about 20 percent of the state”s dairy farms belong to Short Course graduates.

The Farm and Industry Short Course has about 6,000 living alumni, most in Wisconsin but scattered throughout the world as well – there”s even a scholarship in Germany for the FISC.