August 1, 2013 Columns

Academic Edge: How Ohio Solved Its SLP Shortage Problem

A recruitment project involving universities added more than 300 SLPs to Ohio schools. What did it do that others could emulate?

A 15-year project to increase the number of school-based speech-language pathologists in Ohio has reached its goal—and in the process, successfully put itself out of business.

The Ohio Department of Education created the Ohio Master's Network Initiatives in Education—in partnership with Ohio's universities, licensing board, and professional associations—in 1998 to address the growing shortage of school-based SLPs. As a result of OMNIE's distance-learning opportunities, tuition reimbursement, sign-on bonuses and paid internships, more than 300 new licensed professionals have committed to school-based employment. Ohio no longer faces an SLP recruitment crisis and OMNIE comes to a close this month.

The project began on a small scale with a distance-learning graduate program for those with undergraduate degrees in speech-language pathology. Delivered to two cohorts of students, this initiative proved that the state universities could successfully collaborate.

Despite these effective efforts, Ohio continued to face ongoing shortages of school-based SLPs. In 2006, for example, there were almost 200 unfilled school positions on OMNIE's employment opportunities webpage. The 10 Ohio university programs simply did not graduate enough SLPs to meet the growing need. Legislators and school administrators convened representatives from Ohio's speech-language and audiology professional organizations, academic graduate programs, the state licensure board, and department of education, who recommended continuing the collaborative distance-learning graduate program and starting an internship program for speech-language pathology graduate students. Funding from the department of education, initially approved for two years at $2.5 million each year, was extended for five additional years.

Interning and distance learning

The intern program allowed graduate students to provide speech-language services in paid internships during the second year of their graduate programs. Students were licensed under specialized student permits issued by the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Speech Pathology and Audiology. The participating universities provided intensive coursework with additional distance-learning options, and students completed all ASHA and state licensure academic and practicum requirements. The students received $12,000, paid internship ($25,000), medical coverage, and contributions to the state teachers retirement fund. Students at three universities also received tuition remission. Through this program, 170 new clinicians committed to a total of four years (internship and employment) of school service delivery.

Five cohorts graduated from the Collaborative Distance Learning Program, adding 137 new SLPs to the school workforce. In return for their two-year commitment to school employment, students in the three-year, part-time graduate program received $10,000 in tuition reimbursement.

Other OMNIE components included:

  • Twelve distance-learning undergraduate "leveling" courses offered yearly for students interested in the intern and distance-learning programs, but who did not have the required undergraduate coursework.
  • $5,000 to any already-licensed SLP who completed the additional education requirements and committed to school-based employment. 
  • Sign-on bonuses (up to $12,000) to 83 SLPS who accepted school-based employment, payable over three years to ensure a minimum of three years' employment.
  • $2,000 to $5,000 in tuition reimbursement to 231 new SLPs from Ohio's graduate programs who accepted school-based employment.

Recruitment tools

OMNIE spearheaded other activities to attract students, including:

  • A website that includes resources relevant to Ohio's school-based SLPs, an updated database of employment opportunities, university contacts and program information, and recruitment and career information.
  • An ongoing statewide recruitment campaign in which SLPs and audiologists visited high schools, colleges and universities to promote awareness of these career options. Universities report a significant increase in the number of undergraduates majoring in communication sciences and disorders.
  • Rapid approval of the additional teaching credentials required for Ohio school-based employment (in collaboration with the education department's licensure office). More than 70 licensed clinicians have received the additional credentials.
  • Annual workshops to prepare and support licensed clinicians in their roles as supervisors that included guest speakers, panel discussions and the comprehensive "OMNIE Supervisors' Resource Guide" and accompanying DVD.
  • "Guidelines for Ohio SLPs," a series of 20 Web-based modules to support and provide resources for professional development.
  • Pilot telepractice and telesupervison programs to deliver services to children and provide supervision to graduate students in remote regions of the state.

"The Ohio Department of Education is proud of the work that OMNIE was able to accomplish in closing the shortage of SLPs available to students in Ohio schools," says Lou Staffilino, former associate superintendent. "SLPs, universities and local districts had to rethink how we deliver service to students. It's been a valuable investment for Ohio's students."

Nada Allender, MA, CCC-SLP, a former school-based SLP, has coordinated the OMNIE project since 1998. nada@ameritech.net

cite as: Allender, N. (2013, August 01). Academic Edge: How Ohio Solved Its SLP Shortage Problem. The ASHA Leader.

  

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