Graduate Education in Interior Design: Opinions and Perceptions of Professional Leaders

By Hegde, Asha; Hill, Caroline | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Graduate Education in Interior Design: Opinions and Perceptions of Professional Leaders


Hegde, Asha, Hill, Caroline, Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Twenty-two executives from the top 100 interior design (ID) firms in the United States completed a survey on the marketability of an advanced degree in ID and on the content areas of most interest to practitioners. Findings revealed that practitioners anticipate the demand for advanced ID degrees to increase considerably. Specialized knowledge relative to sustainability and lighting design were identified as critical areas for advanced study. Insights from the findings may inform faculties considering development of new and existing graduate programs to meet both academic expectations and current professional practice needs.

Facing an increasing need for specialization in professional practice and a lack of qualified educators, interior design (ID) program faculties are exploring the viability of creating new graduate programs. A recent analysis of existing ID graduate programs in the United States revealed significant variations among programs (IDEC, 2006). To address current confusion regarding content and objectives of the various graduate programs in ID, the Interior Design Educator s Council (IDEC) presented a position paper seeking to clarify graduate program expectations. They stated,

As it exists today, interior design graduate education is defined by various degrees with different missions, professional content, research content, degree nomenclature, accredited status, credit hour requirements, and curricular focus. This creates a lack of clarity for the consuming public and especially for institutions of higher education that must define minimum requirements for its faculty hires. It is incumbent on the profession... to clarify the role of graduate education and to specifically define the attributes of the terminal master's degree (IDEC, 2006, 1).

During recent discussions regarding the possibility of creating a new ID graduate program, faculty at the researchers' institution acknowledged the IDEC position and attempted to work within the graduate education framework proposed by the academy (IDEC, 2006). Additionally, the faculty members identified various components of a quality graduate program (e.g., it should reflect the career aspirations of potential students, aligned with the needs of professional practice) and then attempted to objectively define and understand each of these components using a variety of methods. The study presented here was developed to better understand practitioners' perceptions of ID graduate education and to identify areas of specialization practitioners deemed most useful and relevant now and in the near future. This intent mirrors the American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) Pre-PAC program objectives, which recognize the importance of identifying industry relevant standards to shape competency assessment practices (AAFCS, 2010b). Because many ID programs are housed in family and consumer sciences (FCS) departments, this article should be relevant and timely, particularly to faculties considering the refinement of existing or development of new graduate ID programs.

Historically, relatively little value has been placed on graduate education in ID for a variety of reasons. For example, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA, formerly FIDER) "recognizes the baccalaureate degree as the benchmark standard for a professional interior design education" (IDEC, 2006, p. 2). Thus, little emphasis has been placed on graduate education in the field (Dohr et al, 2008; White & Dickson, 1994).

Additionally, the U.S. Census Bureau (2007) reported that a college graduate with a bachelor s degree earns an average of $57,181 per year; with a master s degree, $70,186; and with a doctorate, $95,565. Although these degree-based financial "leaps" may be the norm in some fields, this is generally not the case in ID (Dohr et al., 2008). "The industry does not provide financial or advancement incentives for people to further their education before entering the practice or for practitioners to later secure advanced degrees. …

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