Five years ago, the Ohio Master’s Network Initiatives in Education (OMNIE) project began, providing school-based clinicians the opportunity to earn a distance-learning master’s degree while continuing their employment. Today, the project has expanded to include a variety of other initiatives to promote the professions and better retain, retool, and recruit qualified SLPs and educational audiologists in Ohio’s schools.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2002–2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook, speech-language pathology and audiology will be among the hottest professions in the country in the next decade. In Ohio, 270 positions annually are anticipated across all settings through the year 2008.
In an effort to recruit qualified clinicians, the OMNIE project was created by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) in collaboration with the Ohio Speech-Language Pathology Supervisory and Audiology Network and eight public state universities: Cleveland State University, Kent State University, Miami University, Ohio State University, Ohio University, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, and University of Toledo.
The initial OMNIE initiative began in September 1998, providing a distance-learning program that included 15 graduate courses offered by participating universities using Web-based technology and videotaped lectures. Each trimester, two courses were presented in a pre-defined sequence, and each student was required to complete 350 supervised practicum hours. This successful project was completed in June 2002, when 58 clinicians passed the PRAXIS exam and completed all of the ODE and state licensure requirements.
Last December, Bowling Green State University, the College of Wooster, and Baldwin-Wallace College joined the OMNIE consortium, and several new initiatives were presented to the ODE for consideration. Barb Conrad (supervisory network), Yvonne Gillette (University of Akron), Lynne Rowan (Kent State University), and I met with Mike Armstrong, director of ODE’s Office for Exceptional Children, and Ed Kapel, ODE’s director of procedural safeguards. They enthusiastically pledged support for continuing efforts in seeking strategies to recruit and retain qualified SLPs and educational audiologists in Ohio’s schools. Three more initiatives are now underway through the OMNIE project.
Licensure and Reimbursement
One OMNIE initiative provides the incentive and opportunity for individuals from the private sector to obtain ODE licensure in speech-language pathology or audiology. The ODE provides up to $5,000 in total tuition reimbursement for state-licensed, master’s-level clinicians completing the additional requirements for obtaining Ohio school licensure. These clinicians must work in Ohio schools for two years upon completion of their coursework and a school-based practicum. There are 40 SLPs and three audiologists taking advantage of this unique opportunity.
The ODE also requested the development of a distance-learning course addressing the organization and administration of public school speech-language pathology programs. A course has been developed and will be offered online for any master’s-level SLP interested in obtaining Ohio school licensure. The course, “Administration of Speech-Language Programs in the Schools,” will be taught by Jean Smith and offered through Bowling Green State University. (Contact Larry Small by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for information.)
Promoting the Professions
The OMNIE project also features an ongoing statewide Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Recruitment Campaign to promote the professions in high schools and undergraduate programs. A recruitment DVD, developed by Terry Hallett of the University of Akron and Barb Conrad, provides an overview of SLPs and educational audiologists in school settings. This DVD, along with promotional literature, is now available to school-based SLPs at the state’s 16 Special Education Regional Resource Centers. The Ohio Speech-Language Pathology Supervisory and Audiology Network also will distribute these materials to local high schools for “Career Days” and “Future Teacher of America” programs. A program for local school SLPs to mentor high school students also is planned.
Alternative Methods for Undergraduate Courses
A third OMNIE initiative focuses on recruiting university students and other professionals through developing alternative methods for completing undergraduate courses in speech-language pathology and audiology. The goal is to increase the pool of speech-language pathology and audiology undergraduates, thereby ultimately increasing the numbers entering graduate programs and demonstrating that employment in the public schools continues as a viable career option.
Ten web-based undergraduate speech-language pathology and audiology courses have been developed (see box above). These courses are either required or considered beneficial for admittance to a post-baccalaureate program leading to a master’s degree in speech-language pathology or audiology. Beginning this fall, the courses will be offered through distance learning for a three-year period, and will be available to university undergraduates, as well as any individual who has a bachelor’s degree and is interested in pursuing a master’s degree in speech-language pathology.
A packet of reproducible promotional materials, the recruitment DVD, an ASHA promotional poster, and information regarding the availability of the Web-based undergraduate courses is being distributed by OMNIE representatives to college advisors and career counselors at more than 92 Ohio schools of higher education.
Introducing and promoting the professions at high schools, colleges, and universities may direct students to a significantly rewarding, challenging, and lucrative career.