Executive Review: What Coursework Do Family Science Academic Programs Require? Exploring & Discussing Standards

Diane Cushman, NCFR Executive Director
/ NCFR Report, Fall 2022

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While we’ll be back in person for the NCFR Annual Conference this November—for the first time since 2019!—our 2022 Annual Member Meeting will again be held virtually, just before the conference, to make the meeting accessible to as many members as possible.

I invite you all to attend the member meeting on Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. Central Time. It’s a wonderful opportunity to recognize the service and accomplishments of your NCFR colleagues and hear an update on NCFR’s activities. Attending the member meeting is free for all members, and you do not need to register for the meeting or for the conference. The Zoom link to the meeting will be provided via email closer to the meeting date.

The member meeting is also a forum for discussing NCFR’s Advancing Family Science Initiative, which aims to strengthen the identity, visibility, and perceived value of the Family Science discipline. Half of the meeting will be devoted to a facilitated conversation among all attendees, to continue the illuminating discussion from our 2021 meeting on NCFR’s role in setting standards for Family Science academic programs. (While NCFR approves academic program curricula for graduates to earn the Certified Family Life Educator credential, NCFR does not have standards for Family Science academic programs more broadly.)

Members conveyed a variety of perspectives during the 2021 meeting, but many expressed interest in continuing to explore the idea of standards for Family Science academic programs.

An important step in moving forward was to obtain a more complete picture of the coursework and competencies that Family Science academic programs currently offer, in order to identify commonalities and differences across universities.

Analysis of Coursework in Family Science Academic Programs

Since the 2021 member meeting, a small group of staff and members have gathered data on the courses offered by the undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs in NCFR’s guide Degree Programs in Family Science (ncfr.org/degree-programs). This includes many programs with the name Human Development and Family Science/Studies (HDFS) or similar, which is the most common name for programs and departments that offer Family Science curricula.

Staff began by examining doctoral programs (the doctoral level was of most interest during the 2021 member meeting). As of the time of writing, collection and initial analysis of the 39 doctoral degree programs is complete; deeper analysis will continue, and staff will connect with doctoral program representatives to share results and begin to hear representatives’ perspectives on this area of work.

A few initial findings about doctoral program course requirements:

  • Research: All 39 programs offer at least one research or research methods course; differences exist among programs regarding number of courses or methods required.
  • Statistics: There are 33 programs with required statistics courses that are identified by name. The remaining six programs either require statistics but students may choose which courses to take or incorporate statistics into research methods courses.
  • Theory: Thirty programs require at least one theory course. Among the other nine programs, theory is offered within another course, required at the master’s level instead, offered as an elective, or listed as a learning outcome of the program.
  • Dissertation: All 39 programs require a dissertation.
  • Teaching: Fourteen programs require at least one course related to teaching methods.

At the time of writing, course data have been collected from programs at the master’s and undergraduate levels, and analysis is slated to begin soon. These data sets include some programs with coursework approved for the CFLE credential and some programs that are not CFLE-approved.

This data and analysis, along with member input and insights we continue to glean, is intended to help inform the trajectory of Family Science in academia and beyond, as well as NCFR’s role in shaping that direction. If you have perspectives to offer, please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or submit feedback at ncfr.org/family-science-feedback.

New Content & Resources

Over the past few months, members and staff delivered additional resources that are invaluable to advancing the Family Science discipline. A few that are of note:

  • “Why Family Science?” article. This important article, written by NCFR President Norma J. Bond Burgess, Ph.D., introduces Family Science in lay terms and illustrates some of the many ways that the work of Family Scientists makes an impact. Published by COSSA, the Consortium of Social Science Associations, the article also introduced Family Science to hundreds of faculty, university administrators, federal policymakers, and others in COSSA’s audiences.

    Read the article at ncfr.org/why-family-science and share with your networks to introduce them to what Family Science is and why it matters.
  • Free September webinar: Navigating a University Restructuring. This webinar offers strategies to support your academic program and the people in it when a restructuring is forthcoming or underway at your institution. Presenters Sharon N. Obasi, Ph.D., Lawrence G. Shelton, Ph.D., and Sterling K. Wall, Ph.D., share insights from voluntary and mandatory program transitions they’ve experienced in a changing higher education landscape.

    The webinar recording is available and is free to all members and CFLEs. Visit ncfr.org/university-restructuring to watch on demand.

I look forward to seeing many of you in Minneapolis in November for the NCFR conference and, hopefully, even more members virtually for the member meeting. Thank you for all you do to power NCFR’s work!