`Home Ec' Moves With the Times
Besides stirring and stitching, home-economics programs try to teach broader life skills
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Men are becoming more interested in the subject of food and nutrition because it provides job opportunities - for example at health clubs, where men can work as nutritionists, says Margaret Potter, who teaches home economics at Framingham State College in Framingham, Mass. Still, only 25 of the school's 366 home-economics majors are men.Skip to next paragraph
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Overall, the school has seen an increase of 8 to 9 percent in enrollment in food and nutrition courses over the last five years.
The clothing-and-textiles area also is popular among students because many are interested in fashion merchandising. But interest in different majors is cyclical. It's a "pendulum swing," Professor Potter says.
For some people, continuing to work as a home economist is not easy. Holsinger, who had specialized in clothing and textiles for many years, says she was discouraged by the lack of appreciation for her profession.
She worked with women who sew in their homes and helped them establish businesses. But many of her clients couldn't make a go of it. "People didn't want to pay for custom work," Holsinger says. After 23 years, she is no longer in the field.
A number of high schools and colleges nationwide are closing home-economics programs because of financial problems. Some schools think that home economics is something they can do without, Potter says. "I think that's an unfortunate decision, because particularly in high-school home economics, students are learning life skills. And if they don't want further education, this is their last time to learn [some of those skills]."
As long as there is a great emphasis on family issues on the national agenda, "there certainly is a future for home economics in the United States," says Mary Beth McFadden, spokeswoman for the American Home Economics Association in Alexandria, Va. She says the association has about 17,000 members. Even though the membership has not increased in the past few years, more job opportunities, especially in the business world, are opening up.
"We do a lot of work behind the scenes," says Kathryn Moore, a home-economics consultant in Kansas City, Mo. The recipes that consumers follow from the back of cereal boxes or the instructional manual showing how to use a food processor, for example, are usually the unsung works of home economists.
A growing number of home economists work for corporations as consultants, says Marlisa Bannister, executive director of Home Economists In Business (HEIB) in Westerville, Ohio. Home economists develop recipes for food companies such as General Mills. Others are employed by consumer-appliance companies such as Whirlpool for testing their products. And some home economists are working for women's magazines such as Good Housekeeping.
HEIB has about 2,500 members; a majority of them focus on advising food producers on nutrition; working with home-appliance manufacturers in testing products and drafting instruction manuals; and public relations. These professionals earn between $15,700 and $50,000, according to HEIB.
Home economics "is a viable career," Potter says. But young people today graduating from a college home-economics program have to be willing to look at nontraditional applications of their skills, such as working for a social-service agency - an area, she says, into which home economists have not yet moved significantly.