Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date


Working Paper Number

WP #11021, November 2011


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.

Publication Status

Published in American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 96 no. 1 (January 2014): 193-212.

JEL Classification

A2, J31, J43

File Format



46 pages

Included in

Economics Commons