Iowa State University horticulture graduates get high marks from employers

AMES, Iowa - In a survey of employers that hired Iowa State University horticulture graduates, 95 percent of companies that responded have reported they feel the students they hired are prepared for the field.

More than half the respondents (52.5 percent) said the employees were more than adequately to exceptionally prepared. Another 42.5 percent said their new hires were adequately prepared, according to the study.

The survey by the ISU horticulture department rated Iowa State graduates from 2004 to 2007. It consisted of 70 questions electronically sent to 107 employers that had hired ISU horticulture students. The response rate was 46 percent.

"We found out that what we are doing is good," said Ann Marie VanDerZanden, associate professor of horticulture and author of the survey. "The students are prepared. There are some things we could add or do a little differently to improve."

The study had three goals, according to VanDerZanden.

First, the survey was intended to discover if the students had mastered horticulture skills as well as proficiencies in oral and written communication ability, and other outcomes.

Second, the department wanted to know if those learning outcomes were the right fit for the horticulture field.

Last, the department was looking for suggestions from employers to make the curriculum better meet the needs of the industry.

VanDerZanden said this was a good time to conduct a survey, possibly the first for the department.

"Our curriculum has evolved in the last few years, so the timing was important to see if the changes we made had the desired impact," she said. "It was nice to get the good news back that this is working."

According to VanDerZanden, the results of the survey may dictate more changes to the horticulture curriculum.

"One of the things that came through in the survey is the need for our students to be bi-lingual, because the Hispanic population is becoming a major part of the green industry workforce. We need to make sure our students can communicate with the people on their crew or people they will supervise. So we've added a new course called Spanish for the Green Industry," said VanDerZanden.

VanDerZanden presented the findings to the American Society of Horticultural Science and got a positive response from other members of her profession.

"Three or four of my colleagues have asked to use my survey as a basis for surveys they want to do," she said.

Horticulture majors at ISU have nine options, ranging from landscape design to the tree fruit industry, to turf grass management.

Typical jobs for horticulture majors include working in a greenhouse, at a golf course, or working for, or owning, a landscaping business or landscape design firm.