Shopping for Higher Education

If you have spent this past holiday season shopping for higher education, you are not alone. It would be perfectly understandable if you found it easier to determine the best deal on toilet paper at the grocery store. You would have probably heard Fire Science, Public Safety, Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, EM and FESHE. What’s the difference and what is the best route? Well, good news! This article should help you make a more informed decision.

Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE)

To begin, let’s unpack FESHE. It stands for Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education. In the early 2000s, several leaders in the field of fire service higher education from across the country gathered at the National Fire Academy and hammered out a Professional Development Model (see illustration). The goal was to promote the fire service as a true profession rather than the stigma of “strong backs and weak minds.” As you can see, an Associate’s degree should prepare you for entry level to company officer. A Bachelor’s degree should be pursued for those that aspire for middle management — i.e. Battalion/Division Chiefs. That of course leaves the executive leadership positions with the Master’s degree level and beyond. Of course along with the pursuit of higher education, one should also work toward mastering their skills as a firefighter as well as pursuing higher level professional certifications as noted in the illustration.

Along with the Professional Development Model, the group also identified six courses and their specific outcomes to serve as a model curriculum for Associate’s degree level schools nationwide. This also had an impact on book publishers; they now had a guide for the content needed for the higher education for firefighters. Soon after the initial FESHE meetings, committees were formed to establish core curriculum for Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even Doctoral levels as well. FESHE has adopted seven courses as the core curriculum for Bachelor’s degree programs. A process was developed for institutions to become FESHE recognized and to award students that complete the “core” courses credit on their National Fire Academy (NFA) Transcript. It is fairly simple for a college to gain FESHE recognition. First, the college submits a syllabus for each class where the core course learning outcomes are included. Then the state training director signs off that the school indeed follows that syllabus. That’s it.

Now, here’s the rub (well rubs, because there’s more than one). Some colleges advertise they are FESHE accredited. Such an animal does not exist. Accreditation and recognition are two different things. (See my article in the Fall 2019 edition for a break down on accreditation). This practice contributes to further confusion for perspective students. Next, the process for getting courses in a student’s transcript is more difficult than getting the recognition. For each of the six courses in the FESHE Associate’s model, the student must complete and sign the NFA “short form” and submit to their institution. The institution then signs off on them and submits them to the NFA. The difficulty here is getting a group of 20 plus students to turn in a piece of paper that has no implication on the completion of their course work in a timely manner.

I can tell you, this is as difficult as keeping cops from parking in front of the hydrant at a working house fire. Third, being FESHE recognized lost some of its luster when they started allowing colleges that are viewed as “degree mills” to carry the distinction. That is a whole other story though. Finally, getting a degree course listed on a student’s NFA transcript doesn’t really serve as an advantage for the student. The colleges’ transcript is what carries the weight.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have had the privilege to participate in FESHE conferences/meetings and have met many of the folks that laid this important ground work. They have done a yeoman’s job that has benefited the fire service as a whole. You, as a perspective student, just need to understand that a FESHE recognized program does not mean that it is superior, nor does the lack of recognition deem a program to be void of quality. In fact, FESHE is at a transition point and its future is unclear. So you should review the course requirements of whatever program you are interested in and see if the courses match-up and/or the books used are FESHE titles.

Fire Protection Technology/Fire Science

Now that you have an understanding of FESHE, you can filter through some of the programs to determine what degree you want to pursue. I wish I could report that this is the easy part, but it can be a little confusing as well. The Associate’s fire service degree commissioned by the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS) is officially called Fire Protection Technology, although some refer to it as a Fire Science degree. Of the 58 North Carolina Community Colleges, 24 of them offer an Associate’s degree in Fire Protection Technology. You will find that these programs have the same core courses. The NCCCS publishes curriculum standards for every program offered by every college. Even though each college has flexibility to offer what their community needs, these curriculum standards have some specifications that must be followed. In that standard, you will find what they call core courses. Every college that offers a program must include the core in the program of study. For Fire Protection Technology, the core consists of six classes, but they are not the same six classes recommended by FESHE.

Emergency Management

The NCCCS lists 15 colleges that offer Associate’s degrees in Emergency Management (EM). This program of study has some similar content as Fire Protection Technology, but is focused more directly on the specific field of Emergency Management and the associated disciplines of Mitigation, Preparedness, Response and Recovery. In fact, one of the Fire Protection Technology courses are required in the core of the EM curriculum standard. Because some of these courses are interchangeable, some students have posed the question to me about getting a second degree. If you take most Fire Protection Technology Degrees, you would only need another six classes to complete the requirements for an Associate’s Degree in EM. While that does seem attractive, two plus two doesn’t equal four in this case. If I were going to put forth time and money for another semester or two of classes, I would make it a chunk toward a Bachelor’s degree. I have never seen a promotional process where two, two-year degrees in emergency services would be beneficial. Even if you wanted to move into the field of EM, why not take your two-year and transfer it to a four-year EM degree. That is most certainly an option. If you had an Associate’s degree in EM, and wanted to pursue a two-year in Fire Protection Technology, my advice would still be the same.

Public Safety Administration

The newest program in the field of emergency services offered by the NCCCS is Public Safety Administration (PSA). This degree has been pitched by several colleges over the past few years. It finally landed about a year ago and four colleges now offer this degree. The origin of this degree comes out of the corrections division of law enforcement. This degree offers a lot of substitutions between the three disciplines in the core. This is significant because the core is usually very specific. While these substitutions have similar content, this could cause a lot of confusion for students that are planning their higher education path. Once you have completed the core, you choose one of four tracks: Correction Services, Emergency and Fire Management Services, Law Enforcement Services or Security and Loss Prevention Services. It seems that our Emergency Medical Services friends have avoided becoming involved in this blended program. In conversations with my counter parts at other colleges about this program, it seems the consensus is that the PSA program will further muddy the waters and pull students away from Fire Protection and EM programs.

What It All Means

So, with all of these programs, how do you proceed from here? Well, it’s simple. If your local college offers all three of these programs, pick the one that will benefit you the most in the next five years. You can look to the senior leadership of your department to give you guidance, because they are the ones that will be doing the promoting. Or, choose the program of study that interests you the most, because just finishing the degree is the most important piece. Then, transfer that into a four-year program. Western Carolina University, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, and Fayetteville State University are state institutions that have four-year programs that will help pave the way for a successful career in emergency services. Of course, many of you will take the path of least resistance and seek out to maximize your professional certifications. Well, that will take just as long to lay out as this did, so we will examine what the NCCCS is doing on that front in the next issue.

Richard Carroll has over 25 years of experience serving in volunteer, career, and combination departments. Teaching for the last 13 years, he is currently employed at Cleveland Community College (CCC) as Coordinator and Instructor of Fire and Rescue Training. Carroll has earned his Master’s Degree in Public Safety and Homeland Security Management. In 2018, he was awarded the Community College Excellence in Teaching Award at CCC and was a top three finalist for the same award at the state level. Carroll can be reached at carrollr@clevelandcc.edu.
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