Just Open More SLP Programs, OK?
Bellow is a guest post by Brian Goldstein, Ph.D., CCC-SLP (Dean & Professor, La Salle University). His words echo my own thoughts on the issue I frequently discuss on my blog – admittance into SLP graduate programs. He has much to say, and we should all be willing to listen, digest, and act. Read on my dear followers…
In my almost 10 years as a University administrator, I have had occasion to talk to members of the Board of Trustees at two different Universities. You might expect that main topics of conversation with Board members might have been graduation rates, faculty hiring, new programs, or budgets. You’d be wrong on all counts. The most common topic of discussion with Board members has involved admission into the master’s program in speech-language pathology. As the current Provost of La Salle University says, “it’s easier to get into some Ivy League schools than it is to get into the master’s program in speech-language pathology.” For the Fall 2014 class at La Salle, we had over 400 applications for 18 spots. In 2011-2012, there were 52,339 applications to the 224 ASHA-accredited programs that completed the survey, http://bit.ly/1vY9ril. I’m sure I don’t have to do that math for you. I would suggest you read this report for this and other sobering statics such as average GPA and average GRE score.
We are all aware of the fact that the number of applications to SLP programs far exceeds the number of available spots. The questions are why the situation exists and what might we do to obviate it. I, along with many others, am deeply concerned that if we do not start working to fix this issue, then well-qualified students will choose not to go into SLP because they believe they will never get into a master’s program. The time to address this issue is now and there is no time to waste.
The limited number of spots in master’s SLP programs has engendered numerous blog posts (e.g., here, here and here) and Twitter discussions—the latter being the impetus for this blog post. In my experience as Program Director, Department Chair, Associate Dean, and Dean, I thought I would try and bring my perspective to this discussion. Here, I want to focus on 2 main reasons for this bottleneck: (1) faculty and (2) clinical placements.
One solution to opening up more spots in graduate programs is to increase the size of the faculty in existing programs and/or hire faculty to open new programs. There’s a problem though. There are not enough faculty. Period. OK, so it’s more complicated than that but let’s start here. In 2011-2012, ASHA (2011, http://bit.ly/1vY9ril) reports that there were openings for 135 full-time faculty, with a projected total of 272 openings through 2017. Approximately, 28% of the openings went unfilled.
What do these data tell us? There are openings for faculty but not enough faculty to fill the available positions. If there are not enough faculty to fill open positions for the programs that exist now, how would it be possible to open any new programs? On a side note, it is expensive to run graduate speech-language pathology programs—from faculty to staff to labs to equipment, etc. The expenses are significant and growing. Back to the faculty issue. Is it possible to educate and hire faculty who do not have a research doctorate? Yes, no, maybe. Take a step back and think about how and where current faculty are educated. They are largely educated in research Universities whose mentors were educated in research Universities and so on. The expectation is that after graduation these individuals will be researchers who teach and not necessarily teachers who do research. Yes, I am generalizing. However, the mode educational paradigm is research faculty educating and mentoring doctoral students in research institutions who will become faculty members at research institutions and perpetuate the line. I freely admit, by the way, that I was of that mindset as well. My sojourn about 5 miles up Broad Street in Philadelphia from Temple University to La Salle University has changed my perspective. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way…
We need different types of institutions to educate a variety of doctoral students using multiple modalities. Yes, online has to be one of those modalities. Is there any reason doctoral students cannot be educated to teach and do some research as opposed to being educated to do research with limited to no teaching experience in their doctoral program? Future faculty can be educated to have significant content knowledge in more than one area and complete a set of research experiences that provide that set of skills as well. Research and teaching would complement each other as they do already with all faculty. With such a (not fully formed) model, mentors would need to alter their perspective on educating doctoral students, and rewards for promotion and tenure would need to be altered as well (that’s for another post though). The other issue is time to degree completion. According to the ASHA report cited above, the majority of students took 4-6 years to complete their doctorate, and 13% took more than 7 years. Taking more than 7 years to complete a doctoral degree simply is not tenable for most individuals. It’s not stated why it took students that length of time but time to degree is definitely a factor that needs to be discussed and addressed.
The second main reason that it is difficult to start new master’s programs in SLP is the need for a variety of clinical placements for students. In the same ASHA report referenced above, approximately 45% or respondents indicated that “insufficient clinical placements” had at least a minor impact on enrollment in Master’s programs. So what are those impingements? The impingements center on sites, personnel, and the nature of clinical practicum itself. Site issues include, but are not limited to, (1) not enough clinical sites overall, (2) not enough clinical sites each semester when they are needed, (3) sites limiting themselves to affiliation agreements with only one University, (4) affiliation agreement process (setting up a contract allowing students to complete a practicum experience at that institution), (5) and requests for payments to site supervisors. Personnel issues include, but are not limited to, (1) the need for field supervisors (i.e., the liaison between University and practicum site), (2) not enough staff at sites to supervise, (3) staff at sites who are too busy to supervise, and (4) productivity requirements for site staff/SLPs. Finally, there is the nature of practicum itself. The largely 1:1 model of supervision makes it difficult to place students and appropriately supervise them.
Where do we go from here?
We all recognize that we have an issue. It is an issue that frustrates all stakeholders, including those of us in higher education. Above, I have made some suggestions regarding faculty preparation. I would add one other idea that impacts faculty. In many–but certainly not all—areas, there is more than one SLP program. Programs should consider combining resources to decrease the faculty load and content knowledge pressure on any one program. Such an idea clearly engenders a more detailed and nuanced discussion than I can provide here—perhaps for a future post.
In terms of clinical placements, we, as a profession, have to consider changes as other disciplines (e.g., Nursing) have done and are doing. Is the (largely) 1:1 model effective and efficient? Research on other models, such as the use of simulation in clinical education, should be conducted, and ASHA should be a leader in funding such work.
As a Dean, SLP, and Professor, I welcome comments on this post and further constructive discussion of this most important topic. I have no doubt that we have the will and ultimately will find the way to make progress on this issue.
Brian A. Goldstein, Ph.D., CCC-SLP is Dean of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences and Professor of Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. Prior to coming to La Salle, Dr. Goldstein served as Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs in the College of Health Professions and Social Work and also as Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Temple University. Dr. Goldstein is well published in the area of communication development and disorders in Latino children focusing on speech sound development and disorders in monolingual Spanish and Spanish-English bilingual children.
Follow Brian on Twitter @goldstein25