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Arboriculture Degree Program and Certification Information

Read about degree and certificate programs for aspiring arborists. Learn about courses, specialty certifications, career choices and salary trends for those working in this field.

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Essential Information

Arborists plant, maintain and/or remove trees, primarily in urban and suburban settings. Along with field knowledge, arborists must have the physical strength to climb trees and manage heavy equipment. Although the profession doesn't require formal education, certificates, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees are available in arboriculture. Voluntary certifications are offered through an arboriculture professional society in a number of specialty areas.


Certificates for Arboriculture

While some schools offer certificate programs solely in arboriculture, some include the topic in a broader horticulture program. Depending on the range of courses, certificate programs can take as little as six months and as long as two years to complete. Students without practical experience might be required to take extra courses. Many classes require hands-on work, and programs might include internships. Some schools offer courses in the evenings and on weekends, and applicants usually only need a high school diploma to enroll.

Program Coursework

Courses typically include fundamentals in arboriculture, teaching students how to classify specific trees, as well as identify signs of disease and decay. Classes cover topics in:

  • Introduction to woody plants
  • Weed recognition and control
  • Climbing safety and practices
  • Natural environments
  • City and suburban landscaping

Popular Careers

Graduation from certificate programs often qualify students for entry-level jobs or provide training and skills to begin an arboriculture business. Some employment options include:

  • Nursery retail sales
  • Pest management trainee
  • Apprentice arborist

Associate's Degree in Arboriculture

Associate's degree programs often focus on community or urban forestry issues. Some programs offer credit for experience whether the student participates in a paid job or volunteer work. Most programs include small business classes for those planning on running a business. A high school diploma is required for admission.

Program Coursework

Courses prepare students for a variety of tasks, such as how to select and preserve trees on construction sites and provide disease control and prevention in public parks. Some classes at the associate's level include field studies, teaching students climbing safety skills and how to use industry equipment. Some other course topics include:

  • Landscaping with ornamental trees
  • Tree disease diagnosis and management
  • Tropical tree studies
  • Urban tree emergencies and response
  • Plant genetics and bud management

Popular Careers

An associate's degree in arboriculture qualifies students for entry-level and skilled positions. Some examples of possible job opportunities include:

  • Landscaper
  • Tree surgeon
  • Arborist
  • Climber
  • Urban forester

Continuing Education

The International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) offers six certifications for arborists, including a basic Certified Arborist credential and several specialties, such as Climber Specialist and Aerial Lift Specialist (www.isa-arbor.com). These certifications are not required to work in the field, but they are measures of professional knowledge and standards that give prospective employees an advantage in the job market.

Three years of professional work experience are required to apply for a certification. Examinations may be taken either in classroom settings or online. Certifications are valid for three years and can be renewed with additional education or retaking the certification test.


Bachelor's Degree in Arboriculture

Bachelor's programs are offered through forestry, agricultural and horticultural sciences departments. Arboriculture can be included as a minor in a larger forestry management degree program. Science aptitude is a key factor in an arboriculture bachelor's program, and students usually only need a high school diploma or equivalent to declare the major.

Program Coursework

Students begin arboriculture programs by learning about general plant biology before progressing to more tree-centric studies. These programs teach students about tree health, safety and management. Courses cover subjects including:

  • Beginning botany
  • Arboreal diseases
  • Tree usage in landscaping
  • Tree equipment selection and usage
  • Arboreal insect problems and control

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect information specifically for arborists, the category of grounds maintenance workers includes landscapers, groundskeepers, pest controllers and tree trimmers (www.bls.gov). The BLS expected these professions to experience a 18% increase in employment opportunities between 2012 and 2022, faster projected job growth than the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for tree trimmers and pruning professionals was reported to be $32,590 as of May 2013.

Continuing Education

The Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) offers a variety of courses and seminars for those wishing to stay on top of the latest innovations in tree care. Classes are available at facilities across the nation and through webinars. TCIA offers industry certification programs and training for both independent professionals and business owners. The organization also invites members to share expertise through classes and sponsor approved outside training programs.

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