The Shift from Home Economics to Family and Consumer Education in College Coursework

The Shift from Home Economics to Family and Consumer Education in College Coursework
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When Did the Shift from Home Economics to Family and Consumer Education Occur?

For years, home economics was considered the primary body of knowledge concerning managing family life in the home and the outside community. Many universities, especially private all-women’s universities, offered home economics as a major, and most high schools required students to enroll in some form of home economics course for graduation. Over time, however, there was a shift from home economics to family and consumer education. The change occurred when academic institutions realized the need to be able to appeal to potential majors. While still largely a product of all-women’s colleges, family and consumer education is mostly found as a major in the midwest, where it originated.

So…What Does One Learn in Family and Consumer Education?

Family and consumer education is a combination of a variety of disciplines: sociology, social science, child development, economics, nutrition, sustainability, education and more. A typical body of coursework for someone majoring in family and consumer education might include:

  • Study of the relationships between family and society
  • Ethics
  • Human sexuality
  • Sustainability and ecology
  • Management of resources within a family
  • Law and family relationships
  • Child development
  • Nutrition
  • Home based or micro businesses
  • Health and safety
  • Leadership
  • Dealing with disabilities
  • Education

As you can see, family and consumer education involves a wide variety of topics that one may engage in during coursework. Generally, those majoring in family and consumer education tend to specialize in one area - nutrition for instance - and focus upon that area during the completion of coursework. There are both undergraduate and graduate programs in home economics.

What Universities offer Home Economics as a Major?

While many universities offer some form of family and consumer science major, the following four institutions in the United States are noted by the International Federation for Home Economics (IFHE).

  • Seattle Pacific University (SPU) - This school allows students to specialize in one of eight different majors related to home economics including nutrition, clothing and textiles, interior design, and family development. SPU is a small department and there are opportunities for students to study abroad. The average yearly cost of attending SPU is around $35,000 a year including room and board costs. Note, however that there are many opportunities for financial aid and scholarships at this university.

  • Cornell University - Cornell’s switch from home economics to family and consumer science went even further with a further change to “human ecology.” This department features human development, apparel design, and nutrition studies. Cornell also offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The average yearly cost of attending Cornell is $57,000 a year. Again, financial aid is available to students.

  • University of Georgia, Athens (UGA) - At UGA, students can specialize in child and family development, food and nutrition, housing and consumer economics, education, human development and disability, or textiles. There are many special events that occur at UGA including seminars and 5K run/walks.

  • University of Kentucky (UK) - UK offers four different undergraduate specialization areas: Family studies, Merchandising and Apparel, Nutrition & Food Science, and Family & Consumer Sciences. A Ph.D. in family studies is offered here, and there is much research available at this school on the topics.

When applying to college for home economics, you follow the same procedures as you would for any university. Fill out each university’s application forms, apply for federal student aid through the fafsa, send your transcripts from any previous university work or high school courses, your SAT scores, letters of recommendation, and your personal essay.

What do You do with a Degree in Family and Consumer Science?

While some majors engaging in home economics study go on to be home managers, many go on to graduate school in the discipline. Even without a graduate degree, there are many career options for those with a degree in family and consumer sciences. For instance, some individuals go on to become youth directors, probation officers, preschool teachers, development center directors, or even congressional aides. Like with any discipline, you will get what you put into your degree out of it. If you work hard in your program and make solid connections with professors, the only limits you will have will be those you put upon yourself.


Seattle Pacific University:

Cornell University:

University of Georgia, Athens:

University of Kentucky:

International Federation for Home Economics:

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