A Study of Undergraduate Fire Service Degree Programs in the United States
Recent national efforts to coordinate and promote higher education in the fire service led to this national survey of fire service degree programs. The main purpose of the study was to gather descriptive information concerning fire service degree programs offered at two-year and four-year accredited institutions. A second purpose of the study was to identify the perceptions fire service degree program coordinators/directors hold concerning current and future issues affecting their programs. The information collected as part of the study can be used in a variety of ways from benchmarking among fire service degree programs to assistance and support with policy formation at the local, state, and federal level.
Of the 248 institutions identified for this study, 222 (89.52 percent) were associate level programs and 26 (10.48 percent) were bachelor level programs. A survey instrument was developed, pilot tested by national experts, and then mailed to the coordinators/directors of fire service degree programs for each of the institutions. Respondents were provided the opportunity to return completed surveys in the traditional paper format or through an electronic version located on the Internet. A total of 210 institutions responded to the survey resulting in an 84.68 percent return rate. At the associate level, 184 (82.88 percent) of the 222 programs responded and 26 (100 percent) of the 26 bachelor level programs responded.
The purpose of the study was achieved as the data collected provides an in-depth snapshot of the current status of fire service degree programs in the United States. Data were collected in the following five areas: Degree Program Information, Student Information, Faculty Information, Distance Education Information, and Program Directors/Coordinators Perceptions.
Findings of the study included: 1) much is unknown about fire service degree programs during the 80s and 90s based on a void in research during this time period, 2) degree programs lack diversity in gender and race for coordinators/directors, faculty, and students, 3) the most important reported challenges facing degree programs included means and methods to increase enrollment, updating curriculum, finding quality instructors, lack of funding, and lack of incentives for earning an advanced degree, and 4) program changes coordinators/directors plan to make include updating and revising curriculum, working on distance education initiatives, and adding new courses, certifications, and programs.
Recommendations for further research included extending this study into a consistent collection process and expanding investigation into other related/advanced degree programs and into the fire service itself. Based on the findings and analysis of the study, the researcher suggested that fire service degree program coordinators/directors in cooperation with national fire service organizations such as the National Fire Academy, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the International Association of Fire Fighters and other organizations work together toward: 1) supporting ongoing fire and emergency service higher education research, 2) developing nationally recognized traditional and distance education curriculum, 3) establishing meaningful incentives for obtaining advanced fire service degrees, 4) providing increased assistance to degree programs, and 5) increasing the diversity of students and faculty within fire service degree programs.