November 29, 2005 Features

A Mark of Excellence: 40 Years of Academic Accreditation

Celebrating Quality in Graduate Education

What do The Sound of Music and the accreditation of graduate education programs in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) have in common? They both emerged onto the national scene in 1965. The establishment of accreditation 40 years ago paved the way for thousands of students and professionals to begin their professional journey with the assurance of strong national standards guiding their preparation.

If you are a member of ASHA or hold the CCC, it is likely that you completed your graduate education in an accredited program. Since the first accreditations were awarded in 1965 to master's programs at the University of Kansas, Auburn University, Case Western Reserve University, and the University of Oklahoma, 264 universities and colleges have participated in the accreditation of master's and clinical doctoral programs on their campuses. The original intent of the accreditation program-to protect the interests of students, benefit the public, and improve the quality of teaching, learning, research, and professional practice-continues to be met today.

Accredited programs in audiology and in speech-language pathology prepare graduates to enter the professions with appropriate entry-level skills in assessment, treatment, and management activities across clinical populations. Today, 359 programs within 249 institutions have achieved and maintain accreditation status with the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA). An additional seven programs are in candidacy status as they prepare to become accredited.

The list of currently accredited and candidate programs is maintained through the ASHA Web site. Continued enhancements and customized search engines currently are in development, so that you can search for CSD programs based on characteristics of interest to you. In just a few short months, when EDFind is launched, academic program data will be just a mouse click away.

Commitment to Quality

What factors led the Association to initiate an accreditation program 40 years ago? Why did we need review and validation by our peers to show that our graduate education programs were "good" and doing their job of preparing students for practice? The short answer to these questions is…commitment to quality. ASHA demonstrated its commitment to quality professional preparation when, in 1959, the American Board for Education in Speech Pathology and Audiology (ABESPA) was created. ABESPA in turn established the Educational Training Board (ETB) to accredit training programs. Common educational standards for master's level programs in the professions were established, coinciding with the professions' decision to establish the master's degree as the required entry degree level for practice.

The academic accreditation program, now administered by the CAA, fulfills one of ASHA's specific purposes: "to promote appropriate academic and clinical preparation of individuals entering the discipline of human communication sciences and disorders." The accreditation program, through the development and application of standards for graduate education programs, promotes the benefits of continuous quality improvement to programs, professionals, and the public. Graduate education programs are evaluated in relation to their own established goals and mission, and in relation to students' opportunities to acquire nationally established knowledge and skills for entry into practice.

National Recognition

If you're still contemplating the value of our 40-year-old accreditation process-or still are wondering how accreditation has affected you as a practicing professional, student, ASHA member, affiliate, or consumer-then you'll be interested to know that these questions have been addressed at the national level. Since 1964 and 1967, respectively, the academic accreditation program has enjoyed continuous national recognition by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and its predecessors and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

What are the benefits of recognition by these two bodies? External recognition of the accreditation program by the governmental entity (ED) seeks to assure that the accreditation standards and operations meet expectations for institutional and program participation in federal initiatives, such as student aid. Specifically, it provides access by CAA-accredited programs and students to personnel preparation federal funding through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act. External recognition by the non-governmental entity (CHEA) ensures quality, accountability, and improvement and provides credibility within the university systems.

The CAA continues to assess its own compliance with recognition criteria published by ED and CHEA in order to maintain its reputation for quality programming within the higher education community. This process of regular in-depth analysis, conducted internally by the CAA and by each of these agencies, identifies strengths but also challenges our accreditation program to find effective means for improvement.

Quality Standards

Accreditation promotes excellence in educational preparation while assuring the public that graduates of accredited programs are educated in a core set of knowledge and skills for entry into independent professional practice. Standards for accreditation identify basic elements that must exist in all accredited graduate education programs, while encouraging flexibility in the ways in which programs pursue excellence.

Since 1964 when the first set of accreditation "requirements" were promulgated by the ETB, the standards have been regularly reviewed and updated. Over the last 40 years, major revisions have been implemented in 1976, 1992, and 1999 with smaller modifications identified and put into effect along the way. The CAA is now conducting a widespread peer review of proposed revisions to the current accreditation standards. Recent changes in our professions, including new certification standards and the emergence of professional doctoral degree programs, make this an especially important time for a review, and an especially important time for the CAA to hear from as many members of the community as possible.

Peer Review

How can you be involved in this process? As mentioned above, the CAA relies on peer review to establish and validate the accreditation standards for graduate education programs. The critical element of any individual program's accreditation review is the opportunity for that program to be reviewed and to receive unbiased feedback by people like you-academics and practitioners; audiologists and speech-language pathologists-based on the accreditation standards.

For most programs, the two-day site visit to their campus is the most rewarding aspect of the process. An on-campus site visit is conducted by CSD professionals who have volunteered to be trained on the accreditation standards and processes for accrediting master's programs in speech-language pathology and master's and clinical doctoral programs in audiology. The site visit enables members of the team to gain insight about the program within the context of its university setting. During the site visit, the team meets with the program director, academic and clinical faculty, students, clinical supervisors, off-campus supervisors, clients and members of the community, and members of the university administration. Programs benefit by discussing their program with knowledgeable peers, and the site visitors benefit by learning about the wide variety of approaches to educational quality.

Site visit teams have expanded in recent years from two members-both individuals serving on faculty in accredited graduate programs-to three members, by adding a practitioner member to each team (see sidebars on page 7).

As we reflect on the past four decades, we acknowledge the hundreds of programs and thousands of faculty, clinical supervisors, students, and volunteers that have contributed to the legacy of quality education in our professions.

Accreditation must allow for innovation and must reflect the ideas and hopes of professionals like you. Share your insights with the CAA through the standards review process and help to continue accreditation's standard of excellence in communication sciences and disorders.

Amy Wohlert, professor and former chair of the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of New Mexico, is now serving UNM as associate provost for academic affairs and interim dean of graduate studies. Her teaching and research focus on neurogenic disorders of speech and language. She is the chair of the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA). Contact her at awohlert@unm.edu.

Tess Kirsch, is associate director of credentialing for policy and education at ASHA. Contact her by e-mail at tkirsch@asha.org.

cite as: Wohlert, A.  & Kirsch, T. (2005, November 29). A Mark of Excellence: 40 Years of Academic Accreditation : Celebrating Quality in Graduate Education. The ASHA Leader.

Join the CAA Site Visitor Team!

The CAA is seeking applications for qualified practitioners and academics to serve as site visitors to graduate education programs in audiology and speech-language pathology. For more information about qualifications, selection and training visit the ASHA website. Applications must be received by Jan. 30, 2006. The current list of volunteer site visitors can be viewed online.

By the Numbers

86: number of CAA site visitors (Fall 2005)
3: number of individuals on a typical site visit team



Share Your Story!

When did you know that you had made the right choice of colleges, programs, or careers? Was it that one course, one professor, or one supervisor? Or perhaps it was working with that one special client when everything fell into place.

We invite you to share your story (and pictures, too, if applicable) with us! Send your 250-word statement by e-mail to tkirsch@asha.org or mail to Tess Kirsch, ASHA, 10801 Rockville Pike, Rockville, MD 20852.

We will highlight these stories in ASHA publications to celebrate the advancements of graduate programs over the past 40 years.



Benefits to the Discipline

For more than 40 years, the academic accreditation program has served as a benefit to the discipline of communication sciences and disorders by providing opportunities for:

  • volunteering and leadership development by serving on the CAA and as accreditation site visitors
  • participating in the standards development process and thus contributing to the preparation of future professionals
  • developing academic and clinical curricula
  • increasing collaboration between academics and practitioners in the preparation of future professionals
  • gaining access to personnel preparation federal funding by CAA-accredited programs and students
  • building national awareness of the professions and the quality of our graduate education programs


Adding Value: Reflections of Practitioners

Three ASHA members who have conducted site visits for CAA share their thoughts on the increased visibility and use of practitioners in the academic accreditation process. 

Why would someone who directly provides services be desirable as an evaluator of a graduate program?

"Practitioner members - who truly are actively in practice - are really aware of what is going on out in the real world, regardless of their specific area of practice" says Jaynee Handelsman, Assistant Director of the Vestibular Testing Center at the University of Michigan. As a member of a site visit team, practitioners can provide a perspective from the professional community when addressing specific program issues, including giving realistic input on how the skills a student learns during clinical practicum will translate into the future employment setting (e.g., succinct report-writing skills for client documentation and record-keeping needs). 

What do programs gain from practitioner's participation in site visits?

"Having practitioners on the site visit team has helped the universities focus more on the ultimate outcome of their program, placing competent students in the professions," observes Sandra Turek, Assistant Chair of the Audiology & Speech Pathology Department at the Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Phoenix, AZ. "The universities have welcomed the practitioners to the team and I think they have benefited from the practitioners' viewpoint and experience." 

Increasingly over the past decade, audiology and speech-language pathology practitioners' participation has been a critical factor in clinical and academic curriculum development, delivery, and assessment. Educational expectations have shifted from "inputs" of counting credit hours and clinical clock hours to "outcomes" of the development and honing of the knowledge and skills needed for professional practice.  

The CAA has contributed to broadening the use of practitioners' experiences in preparing future professionals and evaluating graduate education programs by expanding the number of practitioners on the council from 1 in 1995 to 4 in 2003. Further, in 2002 the CAA began a 3-year phase-in to integrate practitioners on every site visit team. The current site visitor pool includes 34 trained, active practitioners. 

"I think the practitioners have definitely added a much needed value to the academic accreditation process. Having the practitioner perspective has made it easier to review the clinical portion of the programs and has also done a lot to make the clinic supervisors and director be more relaxed during the visit and feel that their needs are being addressed as well," states Ellayne Ganzfried, an independent consultant in New York who is serves on the CAA as one of two practitioner members in speech-language pathology.  

So, how do site visitors benefit from these experiences?

Although all admitted that site visits require a great deal of work, they also feel rewarded personally and energized professionally to be part of the process. Turek admits being "thrilled" when the CAA site visits were opened to practitioners. "Despite the amount of work, I still find [site visits] to be an important part of our profession and the experience is very gratifying. I know I have learned something on every site visit I have been a part of in the last three years." 

Audiology programs, in addition to moving towards outcomes assessment, also have been transitioning to offering clinical doctoral programs. "Personally, because I care about audiology as a profession, and I care about the move to the doctoral level, [site visits have] provided an opportunity for me to be involved in this process and this transition, and to give useful feedback to the programs that are training the future of the profession," states Handelsman. "Serving as a site visitor also provides me with current information on what's happening at ASHA from a certification/accreditation point of view that I can pass onto my colleagues, so that I serve as a conduit of accurate information to the audiologists in my work setting."

The bottom line?

Ganzfried suggests "it has made the CAA stronger as a council and much more well-rounded. I think we sometimes forget that we are not only SLPs, audiologists, and speech scientists but within each group we have so many different work sites and experiences that should be shared." Turek believes that, "prior to 2002, I think we viewed academia and working in the CSD professions as two separate entities. I think having practitioners on the team has made us realize that working in the profession is just a continuum of the academic experience."  



  

Advertise With UsAdvertisement