MFCS - Gerontology


mfcs-gerontology-2Gerontology offers challenging and rewarding careers in an area that is growing rapidly, that needs people with a broad range of skills, and that will improve people’s lives.

  • The Masters of Family and Consumer Sciences with Gerontology specialization is a 36-credit web-based program designed to prepare professionals who are either working directly with older people or are involved in education and research related to older adults.

  • The Masters of Family and Consumer Sciences graduate certificate with Gerontology specialization  is a 15-credit subset of the degree program offered online.

MFCS Gerontology Brochure »

Why study gerontology?

What is gerontology?

Gerontology is the multidisciplinary study of the aging processes and individuals as they grow in adulthood through later life. It includes:

  • The study of the biological, physical, mental, and social changes in adulthood as people age

  • The investigation of the changes within families and society resulting from an aging population

  • The application of this knowledge to policies and programs

  • Creation of environments and development of technologies to support optimal aging

Career outlook

Ongoing demographic need

We live in an aging society, one in which the older population is growing both in absolute numbers and in proportion to all other age groups. Businesses, government agencies, service organizations, educational institutions, and self-employed professionals from every economic sector are recognizing the need for specialized knowledge and skills to meet the needs of this changing demography.

Diverse career specializations

People who are interested in this diverse field come from many disciplines, professions, and clinical areas, such as:

  • Social work
  • Nursing
  • Counseling
  • Recreation
  • Public policy
  • Long-term care administration
  • Medicine
  • Architecture
  • Psychology
  • Adult education
  • Rehabilitation therapy

Some people work directly with older persons in a wide variety of programs and services in the community. Others work on behalf of older persons in areas such as advocacy and teaching about aging.

Online program

This online program is offered by the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (GP-IDEA), a consortium of universities that have come together to offer fully online degree programs. Each university brings a unique strength to the multi-institution academic programs.



Master’s program

  • 8 required 3-credit courses:
  • Geron 530: Perspectives in Gerontology
  • Geron 534: Adult Development
  • Geron 540: Nutrition and Physical Activity in  Aging
  • Geron 545: Economics, Public Policy and Aging
  • Geron 563: Environments and Aging
  • Geron 577: Aging in the Family
  • Geron 584: Program Evaluation and Research Methods
  • Geron 594: Professional Seminar in Gerontology
  • 12 credits of electives: Elective courses are offered in areas such as biological aspects of aging, gender and aging, spirituality, creativity, cognitive aging, sexuality, mental health and aging, long-term care, gerontechnology, and contemporary concepts in design.

Practicum experience. Up to three credits of practicum experience may be included.

Graduate certificate program

  • 2 required 3-credit courses:
  • Geron 530: Perspectives in Gerontology
  • Geron 534: Adult Development
  • 9 remaining credits: These credits are taken from other core courses or from gerontology electives. You will need to consult with your Major Professor before taking any elective credits. 
  • You may consider following one of the two following tracks but do not have to choose one if after talking with your Major Professor you find a different set of courses that will fit your needs:
Design Track Long-Term Care Track
Perspectives Perspectives
Adult Development Adult Development
Environments & Aging Long-term Care
Long-term Care Policy and Aging
Conceptual Design Aging in the Family
Policy and Aging Cognitive Health

Schedule of offerings

Course availability is dependent on several factors. The following course list provides our best estimate of projected course availability. Ability to enroll in courses depends on factors such as faculty availability and enrollment limits. Students should be in regular contact with the campus coordinator and their major professor to confirm upcoming course offerings.

An asterisk (*) indicates required courses for the certificate.

 Course  Fall   Spring   Summer
Geron 530: Perspectives in Gerontology Required*    
Geron 534: Adult Development   Required*  
Geron 540: Nutrition and Physical Activity in  Aging Required*    
Geron 545: Economics, Public Policy and Aging Required    
Geron 563: Environments and Aging   Required  
Geron 577: Aging in the Family   Required  
Geron 584: Program Evaluation and Research Methods (Spring 14, Fall 14, and Spring 16)  Required*  Required*  
Geron 594: Professional Seminar in Gerontology     Required*
Geron electives Required* Required* Required*


Priority for registration will go to students admitted into the Gerontology program.

For a current list of course offerings, visit the courses page.

Course descriptions

Core courses

GERON 530: Perspectives in Gerontology. Fall. (3 credits)
An overview of current aging issues including the current focus of gerontology theory and research, critical social and political issues in aging, the interdisciplinary focus of gerontology, current career opportunities, and aging in the future.

GERON 534: Adult Development. Spring. (3 credits)

This course explores the biological, psychological, and social factors that are associated with aging.  Although the focus is on the later years, information is presented from a life-span developmental framework.  Empirical studies are reviewed and their strengths, limitations and implications for normative and optimal functioning are discussed.

GERON 540: Nutrition and Physical Activity in Aging. Fall. (3 credits)

This course identifies the basic physiologic changes during aging and their impacts in health and disease. The focus will be on successful aging with special emphasis on physical activity and nutrition. Practical application to community settings is addressed.

GERON 545: Economics, Public Policy, and Aging. Fall. (3 credits)

Policy development in the context of the economic status of the elderly populations. Retirement planning and the retirement decision; Social Security and public transfer programs for the elderly; intra-family transfers to/from the elderly; private pensions; financing medical care for the elderly; prospects and issues for the future.

GERON 563: Environments and Aging. Spring. (3 credits)

Examination of attributes of physical environments that support special needs of older people and applications of this knowledge to the design and management of housing, institutional settings, neighborhoods and communities.

GERON 577: Aging in the Family Setting . Spring. (3 credits)

Theories and research related to personal and family adjustments in later life affecting older persons and their intergenerational relationships. Related issues including demographics also are examined through the use of current literature.

GERON 584: Program Evaluation and Research Methods. Spring 14, Fall 14, Spring 16. (3 credits)

Overview of program evaluation, research methods, and grant writing in gerontology. Includes application of quantitative and qualitative methods in professional settings.

GERON 594: Professional Seminar in Gerontology. Summer. (3 credits)

An integrative experience for gerontology students designed to be taken near the end of the degree program. By applying knowledge gained in earlier coursework, students will strengthen skills in ethical decision-making behavior, applying these sills in gerontology-related areas such as advocacy, professionalism, family and workplace issues. Students from a variety of professions will bring their unique perspectives to bear on topics of common interest.


In addition to the 24-credit core, students will select 12 credits of electives to fulfill the 36-credit requirement for the master’s program. The Great Plains-IDEA campus coordinator will notify students of special topic Gerontology courses offered throughout the year. These courses may cover topics such as:

  • Global aging
  • Grandparent-grandchild relations
  • Adult learners
  • Study tour
  • Leadership in aging organizations
  • Intergenerational issues and programs
  • Arts and humanities
  • Advanced theories on aging
  • Current topics
  • Community services and aging
  • Ethics
  • Rural aging
  • Statistics

Regularly offered courses that may serve as electives are:

C Dev 523: Grantwriting

FFP 540: Estate Planning for Families, 3 credits

FFP 545: Retirement Planning & Employee Benefits, 3 credits

GERON 520: Women and Aging

GERON 521: Biological Principles of Aging

GERON 522: Long-Term Care

GERON 523: Mental Health and Aging

GERON 524: Cognitive Health

 Additional courses may cover topics such as:

  • Spirituality
  • Creativity
  • Sexuality
  • Gerontechnology
  • Contemporary concepts in environments and design

Other possibilities. In addition, other Great Plains IDEA courses relevant to aging exist on topics including financial well-being and grant writing. Additional Iowa State courses (online and on-campus) may be pertinent to your studies. Please check with the campus coordinator and your major professor.

Non-degree status

Students may take up to nine graduate credits hours as a non-degree seeking student before being formally admitted to the program. No more than nine credits earned in non-degree status can be used on the program of study for a degree.

Priority for registration will go to students admitted into the Gerontology program.

Final exam

Capstone course case study

Students will prepare a case study as part of the capstone course, GERON 594, which is offered every summer. The capstone paper focuses on four core areas of learning within the program (for example, families, environments, physical health).

Save the notes from you core classes! Students often comment that it was helpful to save notes from their core classes so that they could refer back to literature and assessment tools for their capstone paper.

Plan ahead. Plan ahead to take this summer course and discuss details regarding this final examination with your major professor.

Oral exam

Following the capstone course and writing, students will “defend” their paper to their program of study committee.

Because this is a distance degree program, students will not need to travel to campus to fulfill this requirement. This oral examination is generally completed via conference call, however, you are welcome on campus as we would be delighted to meet you if we haven’t done so already.

Final exam forms/procedure » 

  • Contact Information

    MFCS graduate program information

    (Questions about admission, registration, etc.)

    Karen Smidt
    310 MacKay Hall
    2302 Osborn Drive
    Iowa State University
    Ames, IA 50011-1078
    Phone: 515-294-5397
    Fax: 515-294-5385

    Academic issues

    (Questions related to academic progress, such as advice on courses, timing of courses, career path, etc.)

    Jennifer Margrett
    4380 Palmer
    2222 Osborn Drive
    Ames, IA 50011-1084

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