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.
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.
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.
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.