For many faculty members in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) training programs, the words "strategic planning" create a desire to find the nearest exit. However, faculty members in the Communicative Disorders Program (CD) at San Francisco State University (SFSU) have remained engaged in a comprehensive strategic planning process for more than two academic years. We have found the process to be time-consuming, complex, difficult, and tedious—as well as inspiring and rewarding. Several tools and strategies have helped us reach milestones in this process, and we have become collectively engaged in the process of continually improving our training program to meet the future.
The Context for Strategic Planning
Prior to the implementation of the 2005 ASHA certification standards in speech-language pathology, SFSU's CD program joined CSD programs throughout the United States to evaluate and re-align our curriculum with the new standards. Since 2005, several key resources and initiatives sparked the current process of program improvement, including the Quality Indicators for Integration of Clinical Practice and Research: Program Self Assessment Pilot Program (ASHA, 2007a) and the Speech-Language Pathology Education Summit (ASHA, 2007b). Each of these initiatives influenced the strategic planning process in different ways and provided cohesion to changes suggested by faculty members, students, graduates, and community professionals in speech-language pathology and audiology in the San Francisco Bay area.
The Process of Strategic Planning
The development of a formal program planning process began quite informally with discussions and planning at a CD faculty retreat prior to the fall 2006 semester. During the daylong retreat, several innovative ideas were suggested to strengthen curricular elements and to increase coordination between course and clinical instructors. From this informal beginning, the application of ASHA's Quality Indicators survey provided a tool to guide our program analysis. The indicators are a Web-based tool that helps academic and clinical faculty to develop a shared vision for successful integration of clinical practice and research in five key areas: general curriculum, coursework, faculty preparation, students, and clinical practicum. Initially, the indicators survey served as a starting point for discussions to enhance evidence-based teaching and learning. The Quality Indicators later took on a leading role and were a guiding source for evaluating the CD program.
Steps in the development of the program improvement process continued throughout the 2006–2007 academic year. By adapting the participatory action research model in part attributed to Whyte (1992), the evaluation of the SFSU CD program began to take shape. Whyte proposed that social and organizational change requires the input of those most affected by the changes. Key stakeholders in the process included future employers, practicing speech-language pathologists, CD faculty, and students. A multi-phase process gathered input in the following sequence:
- Advisory Council and Open House (October, 2006). Community-based SLPs, employers, current students, and faculty were invited to review the SFSU CD program during an open house that featured demonstrations of curriculum and clinical training components. A survey was completed by invited CD Community Advisory members to determine program strengths and needs for improvement.
- SFSU CD Program Self-Assessment (November–December, 2006). SFSU CD program faculty reviewed the results from the Advisory Council survey to identify areas for improvement. In addition, the Quality Indicators tool was used and discussed by faculty to identify areas for improvement in academic and clinical training. Curriculum revisions and collaboration with clinical instructors were accomplished through several focused discussions at CD faculty meetings.
- ASHA's SLP Education Summit (February, 2007). A faculty member participated in the summit, which focused on preparing SLPs for the future workplace, leading to continued discussion and evaluation of the SFSU CD program using the framework of questions from the summit.
- Quantitative and Qualitative Survey (April, 2007). Following discussion and development of indicators of professional excellence for future SLPs, an Internet survey was posted for one month. Focus groups also were held with current students to identify their perceptions of program strengths and weaknesses in preparing for future careers. A total of 70 participants responded to the focus groups and/or the online survey, including CD program faculty, community-based clinical instructors and SLPs, and current and past students. Survey results were analyzed to identify specific program quality indicators, which were adapted from ASHA's tool and placed into an action plan for program improvement.
- CD Faculty Retreat (July, 2007). CD faculty reviewed the survey results to revise the program mission statement and refine the plan of action. Following the completion of a newly drafted mission statement, materials were circulated for additional review by all CD program faculty, including goals for the upcoming academic year as well as specific assignments for designated leaders in each initiative area.
- CD Program Revision Plan (September, 2007). Following the development of the updated SFSU CD mission statement, goals, objectives, and activities in the strategic planning process, CD program faculty developed a program revision plan. Several courses have been revised and the overall program reflects more comprehensively the ASHA speech-language pathology Knowledge and Skills Acquisition (KASA) and Scope of Practice.
- Ongoing Program Evaluation (academic year 2007–2008). Bimonthly progress reports are provided at each CD faculty meeting. Input is gathered from various stakeholders, including lecturers,
clinical instructors, and representatives from the
National Student Speech Language Hearing
Association. In addition, formal review of the strategic plan is conducted quarterly during CD faculty meetings.
Results of Our Process
Now into the second academic year, our accomplishments include:
- Revision of the CD program mission and goals
- Development of the CD program strategic plan
- Re-activation of the CD Community Advisory Council
- Re-alignment of curriculum to better meet ASHA standards
- Establishment of a dynamic process to prepare SLPs for current and future work environments
Over the past two academic years, faculty members developed many innovations to address the revised mission statement and program goals (see sidebar on page 28) and to advance the curriculum forward with current research and practice. This plan serves as a framework to prioritize our burgeoning ideas and projects. The strategic plan is reviewed annually by the CD Advisory Council, with input from stakeholders.
Although we have accomplished many of our objectives, future challenges include expanding curriculum, coordinating academic and clinical training, and linking research to practice. The process broadened the perspective of faculty members to include the perspective of the department as a whole. Discussions lifted issues of pedagogy out of the classrooms and into broader, department-wide conversations, helping reveal common philosophies and define different teaching strengths. Most importantly, we have strengthened connections and focused on common goals for the clients and families we serve.