Sustaining FCS in Higher Education: A 2010 Perspective

Article excerpt

This article identifies characteristics of enduring FCS higher education programs and explores organizational changes and the impact of these changes. From multiple sources, characteristics of sustained programs were identified and categorized as (a) resource-based: strong leadership, outstanding faculty, adequate resources; (b) program-related: robust academic and engagement efforts; interdisciplinarity; student body quality, size, and diversity; and (c) strategic vision-oriented: commitment to a culture of change and effective communications. Recent organizational changes in some higher education institutions have led to mergers with other units and dispersal of FCS faculty. Outcomes have included survival of some content areas, weakened ties to FCS, and new directions and collaborations. Other FCS units have sustained a strong identity and continuity.

Many family and consumer sciences (FCS) programs have endured over time, surviving by their quality, capacity to withstand adverse conditions, and openness to change. They vary widely in emphasis, configuration, content, and name. As with many other disciplines, continuation of comprehensive FCS units per se is an increasingly significant concern as higher education responds to many challenges. These challenges include severe budgetary strains, shifting demographics, global competition for talent, rapid changes and increased sophistication in the sciences, goals to increase academic excellence, and other pressing issues.

The purposes of this article are to identify characteristics of enduring FCS higher education programs and to explore organizational changes and the impact they have had. Five case studies, germane articles dealing with sustainability in higher education, and our observations and experiences in higher education form the basis for the article.

Decades ago, Firebaugh (1980) and Bailey, Firebaugh, Haley, and Nickols (1993) considered issues and paradigms affecting the future of FCS, focusing on program survival. Stokes (2009) observed that higher education program planners must alter the perspective "from survival to sustainability." Turkki and Vincenti (2008) concluded that home economics has a sustainable mission and its history can be a resource for the future.

The mission of FCS programs in higher education is to improve the human condition and educate citizenry for the future. McGregor and Gentzler (2009) defined the primary purpose of home economics "to socialise new generations of practitioners to improve the quality of life and augment the human condition" (p. 15). Sustainable FCS programs in comprehensive universities focus on student learning, research, and public engagement about social, health, economic, and environmental issues.

FCS programs of varying size, academic offerings, organizational structure, private or public governance, and geographic location comprise the case studies. Two programs are located in Midwestern land-grant universities-one a separate college and the other a college resulting from the merger of two colleges. Southern programs included are a college in a land-grant university and a school in a denominational college. The fifth is a college in a Southwestern state university. The case studies are based on a set of questions exploring leadership patterns, changes in the unit in the past 10 years, challenges to maintaining a sustainable academic program, threats to the unit, external support for research, enrollment data, and physical facilities.


Higher education institutions will inevitably change in response to our rapidly changing world. Characteristics that promote long-standing FCS programs are probably necessary, but they may be insufficient for continuing a given academic program in its current structure and organization. The characteristics of sustainability are classed as resource-based, program-related, and strategic vision-oriented. …