Why African Americans Choose a Family and Consumer Sciences Major

By Burdette-Williamson, Pamela; O'Neal, Gwendolyn S. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Why African Americans Choose a Family and Consumer Sciences Major


Burdette-Williamson, Pamela, O'Neal, Gwendolyn S., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Abstract: Who influences minority students' career choices? In a study to determine what forces influence African American undergraduate students to choose a family and consumer sciences major, the authors found the most influential forces to be people. These included the college advisor, mother, and college friend. The majority of the students chose their majors to prepare for a career, to help others, or to combine career and family roles. Recommendations, such as educating influential people through social, civic, and religious organizations, are presented for the recruitment of African American students.

The family and consumer sciences profession continues to strive to accomplish their goal of more diversity among student populations at higher education institutions. Literature supports the proposition that ethnic groups of color continue to be under-represented in the various specialization areas of family and consumer sciences (Bagby & Couchman, 1991; Bosselman, 1994; Ebro & Winterfeldt, 1994; Hogan & Ruffin, 1991; Hymon-Parker & Carey, 1991; Kellett & Beard, 1991; Peck, 1994). The seriousness of the situation is underscored by the Project 2000 initiative, jointly sponsored by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (AAFCS) and the Office of Higher Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Project 2000 goal is to build minority participation in family and consumer sciences in postsecondary and higher education. Representatives attending the 1990 summit meeting were encouraged to take aggressive action at their institutions to meet the Project 2000 goal (AAFCS and the Office of Higher Education Programs of the USDA, 1990). In the subsequent years, an increase of 0.5% in degrees awarded to ethnic minorities in family and consumer sciences majors was realized (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1995, 1996).

Concern about the under-representation of ethnic groups of color in family and consumer sciences is warranted. A profession that aims to provide a service to the public should be comprised of individuals who represent the society it strives to serve. For the 1989-90 academic year, the number of family and consumer sciences degrees conferred was 27,673 (NCES, 1992). Of these degrees, 14.2% were awarded to ethnic minorities. During the 1993-94 academic year, the latest year data are available,15.4% of the family and consumer sciences degrees were awarded to ethnic minorities (NCES, 1996). Yet ethnic minorities make up 25 % of the population (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1994, p. 30). This is expected to increase to 49% by the year 2050 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1993, p. 14).

Ralston (1978, 1992) and Andrews (1984) observed that the profession and AAFCS have not fully benefited from the contributions that racial and ethnic groups make to society. However, increased recognition of these contributions and greater attempts to promote a diverse student population could prove beneficial to the profession. Although comparatively fewer in number than their representation in the total population, persons of color still choose majors in family and consumer sciences. Why do they choose family and consumer sciences? Who influences their career choice? Can we turn to one ethnic group to seek answers?

We attempted to answer these questions by examining variables that influence the choice of a family and consumer sciences major among African American undergraduate students. Specifically, we sought to determine characteristics, experiences, and other significant forces that might influence the students' choice of major. An understanding of these significant forces provides a basis for recruitment and retention efforts.

Theoretical Framework

Many theorists and researchers have written about the career decision-making process. Forces that affect career decisions can be divided into four categories: decisionmaking, developmental, personality, and sociological theoretical frameworks. …

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