Feather River College’s four-year Bachelor’s degree in Equine and Ranch Management was featured on PBS’ Inside California Education Series this past Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Since 2016, California community colleges have been allowed to offer four-year degrees as long as they don’t duplicate a program offered by a California state university. Fifteen community colleges across the state took advantage of this new opportunity.
In the episode, Russell Reid, Agriculture and Equine Studies department chairman, said it was initially a challenge to come up with an all-new four-year curriculum. But, he explained, “what we did was say, ‘Let’s take a job description of what we’d like our students to be able to do.’”
Besides showcasing the impressive facilities the program offers for working with horses and cattle, and the breathtaking location, the show featured several student stories. Every student interviewed said they found something unique and engaging in FRC’s program. They also appreciated the surprisingly affordable nature of the program. According to FRC’s President, Kevin Trutna, the cost for the entire four years is $10,000, making this degree affordable for students who might not be able to go otherwise.
Student Amber Woolwins said she had planned to go to Cal Poly SLO, but didn’t find any majors there that interested her. FRC’s program drew her in from the start. What changed after she got to the program, was her focus. “I’m interested in cows,” she said, “production, maintenance, and management. I love anything with cows.” The program shows her at work worming and vaccinating calves under the direction of J.P. Tanner, who introduces himself as “the beef professor.”
Woolwins said she feels she’s getting a better education, and more one-on-one time with instructors than she would elsewhere. “It’s a huge difference,” since there are 10 students rather than 50 in a class. “We’re able to advance our skills a lot better and a lot faster,” she added.
Another student, Quinton Wiest, was raised on a farm in Bend, Oregon, and plans to be a ranch manager when he graduates. Wiest originally came to FRC to play baseball and planned to stay only two years. When he heard about the Equine and Ranch Management program, he decided to sign on for the additional two years and a Bachelor of Science degree.
Reid, the godfather of all things equine and ranch at FRC, is stoic about the program, and his observation gets to the heart of what education is about in any discipline. “The biggest question that is probably asked me by parents, by students when they come here is, ‘Okay, what can they do if they go here?’ My standard response back to that, ‘Welp, depends upon the student.’”
Trutna said that last year, a student from the program was hired by Ted Turner to be a ranch manager. Turner is the largest landowner in Montana and has one of the largest ranches in the country. “We’ve had students open up horse therapy programs. One has a riding program for severe mental or brain injuries,” said Trutna. Other students have careers in agricultural lending, beef cattle and training horse trainers.
FRC hosted a viewing party, and a group of students from the Equine and Ranch Management Program gathered in the agriculture building to watch the episode. It can be viewed here: insidecaled.org/videogallery/video/icae-cc-four-year-degree-at-a-community-college.
This four-year degree pilot program ends, reports PBS, in 2026 unless new legislation is signed.