Exemplary Practices in Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition of Racial/Ethnic Minorities to Communication Science Disorders (CSD)


The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has a history of concern regarding diversity issues within its membership, and in the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology. Among ASHA's concerns has been: 1) the need to recruit and retain greater numbers of racial/ethnic minorities in the professional disciplines, 2) the delivery of services to culturally and linguistically diverse clients, and 3) the need for multicultural competence in communication disorders. Each of these concerns has been addressed by the association in model approaches, position papers, demographic research and related endeavors over the past quarter century.

Currently, ASHA is engaged in a multi-strategy initiative aimed at developing programs and services to address these issues. One such initiative has been the identification of exemplary practices at institutions of higher education in the recruitment, retention and career transition of racial/ethnic minorities to the professions of speech-language pathology and audiology. The following is an overview of the key elements of successful recruitment and retention practices within the discipline of Human Communication Sciences and Disorders. Academic administrators should review their programs for the presence/absence of these key elements to determine the potential for success in their recruitment/retention efforts.  It is likely that not all of the elements as described will be present in any given academic institution; however, the inclusion of more of these elements is expected to correlate to a higher level of success for recruitment/retention efforts.

Additional information on how these elements have been implemented in CSD programs, and in other professions, can be found in related ASHA documents entitled A Compendium of Exemplary Practices by College and Universities in the Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Professionals and Minority Student Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition Practices: A Review of the Literature.

Rationale for Diversity in the Discipline of Communication Sciences and Disorders

Racial/ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented in the communication disorders professions. [As of 2002, approximately 92.4% of all ASHA members were white and not of Hispanic origin with only 2.7% reported as black or African American and 2.3% reported as Hispanic or Latino.  The remainder of ASHA members may fall into multiracial or other categories.  At the same time the National Health Interview Survey indicates that there is a greater prevalence of speech and hearing disorders among racial/ethnic minorities than among whites, and goes on to estimate that 6.2 million culturally and linguistically diverse Americans have a communication disorder (National Center for Health Statistics, 1996).

According to the Council of Academic Programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CAPCSD) 2000-2001 Survey of Undergraduate and Graduate Programs , CLD students comprised 9% of the undergraduate student population, 11% of master's and approximately 12% of doctoral students. CAPCSD also reported that the 11% of minority master's students who enrolled in 2000-2001 represented the highest number in the history of the discipline. Although there has been a modest increase in the number of minority students over the last several decades, the number of clinicians with the knowledge, skills and competencies to meet the growing clinical demands of CLD populations with communication disorders is not sufficient.  Efforts by some colleges and universities in the past two decades have resulted in some gains in the number of minority students entering and completing CSD studies and then moving through the certification process to assume CSD careers. While these gains have failed to keep pace with the diversity now present among the consumers of speech, language and hearing services, the efforts are noteworthy for their potential to suggest effective practices for increasing racial/ethnic minority enrollment across programs.

These statistics are problematic for ASHA.  A lack of diversity among our membership will limit our ability to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse client population.  Additionally, the association has accepted the notion that there is increased credibility in having a membership body that is representative of the populations served, and ascribes to the well-documented philosophy of the benefits of diversity. A consistent finding of research related to diversity is that including diverse perspectives can generate more creative and innovative ideas.  Also, diversity of thought leads to new modes of thinking and more efficient ways of accomplishing things.  These are benefits ASHA strives to achieve. 

Increasing opportunities for racial/ethnic minorities in speech-language and audiology is an admirable and much needed objective.  Not only will such an increase assist in reversing the current under-representation, but it also stands to improve the overall quality of services being provided to individuals from CLD backgrounds with communication disorders.  Heightened sensitivity and awareness is generally inherent to common cultural identification and can be integrated into clinical training and practice, along with an increased understanding of cultural and familial practices and behaviors.  Adding to the current professional pool more minority professionals as role models and mentors will also serve as a foundation for future recruitment efforts.  These professional relationships typically result in the proliferation of research, assessment and therapeutic techniques, and philosophies relative to communication disorders within minority populations.

General Elements Found in Successful Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition Programs

Successful recruitment, retention and career transition of diverse students appears to occur in conjunction with a number of distinct, identifiable, and vital elements. While "indispensable" may be too strong a word to describe these elements, the degree to which they are present in an institution, program or activity adds to their ability to address diversity and multicultural objectives. Those program components included:

Commitment to Diversity by the Institution

The president, trustees and others in the leadership ranks display a genuine interest in educating a racially and ethnically diverse student population and this is manifested in the policies and procedures of the institution. Additionally, the value and benefit of increased campus diversity to the institution as a whole is a cornerstone of this commitment-shared by faculty and staff, and endorsed by students.

Commitment to Diversity by the Department

The faculty displays an understanding of the importance of the institution's commitment to diversity, for maintaining the viability of the program as it competes with other departments at the institution, and other universities, for the best students from an increasingly diverse student pool.  These faculty work to ensure these interests are woven into the curriculum and serve as principles in the recruitment and retention of students. Beyond quality teaching and addressing of diversity and multicultural matters in the classroom, the faculty also actively engage in related activities outside of the formal classroom environment, such as tutoring, mentoring, and helping students establish networks and build relationships that lead to greater academic achievement and career success.

Responsiveness to Student Needs

The institution is actively engaged in providing programs and services that facilitate the educational and career development of its students. Students are granted financial assistance to engage and continue in their studies through the provision of scholarships, grants, work-study, tuition wavers, loans and loan forgiveness programs. Further, underrepresented students appreciate a campus climate or culture that is psychologically and emotionally supportive from the onset of their studies through graduation.

Employment of Developmental Approach to Recruitment

Professions and institutions recognize the importance of age, grade level, and life experience in the design and delivery of programs and services. Early intervention programs are effectively used with middle/junior high school students. Older students and adult career-changers are exposed to appropriate age and experience level approaches. Recruitment strategies aimed at achieving the goals of the diversity program are designed specifically for the racial/ethnic groups they are attempting to reach. Finally, once engaged in their studies, students are supported with retention activities that will ensure their success in the classroom and career services that will help them make the transition to the workplace.

Specific Elements Found in Successful CSD Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition Programs

An examination of the colleges and universities that are experiencing the greatest success in recruiting minority students to CSD studies and responding to the diversity and multicultural concerns of the profession, indicates that they have woven a number of specific elements into effective stratagems. These elements are present in varying degrees in the programs that are profiled in the Compendium of Exemplary Practices by CSD Programs in the Recruitment, Retention and Career Transition of Racial/Ethnic Minorities .

The components that were present in successful CSD programs have been divided into recruitment, retention and career transition elements:

Recruitment Elements

The first step in the process of increasing the numbers of minority students is rooted in the recruitment and admission practices of the institutions, specifically within the CSD programs themselves. The following elements were commonly found in institutions or programs successful in recruiting minority students:

Early and Extended Awareness Programs

CSD departments with successful recruitment programs made a concerted effort to make prospective students, particularly minority students, aware of CSD career possibilities. Programs were identified that served a range of ages, educational levels and consumers, from early awareness programs for elementary and middle schools students to those created for undergraduate students and career-changers, including veterans. Resisting the "one size fits all" approach, different messages and communication strategies were utilized with varying groups.

Outreach Efforts

CSD programs that have achieved success in addressing their diversity and multicultural objectives placed a very high premium on outreach and awareness. In implementing these programs, they sought to enhance public awareness of CSD and the role which speech-language pathologists and audiologists play in treating communication disorders. When one-third of caseloads in various settings are comprised of racial/ethnic minorities, it is critical that these consumers are the subject of concentrated outreach efforts.

Use of Media to Communicate Information About CSD Studies and Careers

From traditional print media to creative uses of electronic technologies (e.g., Web sites, chat rooms, electronic newsletters, etc.) a number of CSD programs have become assertive in the development and delivery of information to prospective students. These resources range from materials that define admission/academic requirements, to those that answer career questions. Following the lead of ASHA, a number of these programs have created materials that depict minorities in photos, posters and illustrations, thus using subtle images to depict the inclusion of minorities active in the classroom and at work in the professions.

Admission Process Adaptation/Flexibility

Without compromising the admission requirements deemed necessary for success in CSD studies, institutions are discovering that traditional procedures may be discriminatory toward previously underserved and currently underrepresented minorities. In some instances, institutions and programs have simply modernized their admission and application procedures. It appears that increased flexibility in the admissions process may have an impact on a students' ability to connect with an institution.  Those programs that have implemented electronic submissions of applications have generally seen an increase in applications overall.  Thus some campus administrators are re-examining admissions standards and procedures, to determine the extent to which they may encourage diverse applicants.  Some CSD departments are also experimenting with making admission procedures more adaptable, including holding personal interviews, allowing portfolio reviews, integrating writing samples, and increasing the importance of letters of recommendation, in lieu of heavily weighted GPA and GRE scores. 

Collaboration by Institutions

A number of institutions engaged in the preparation of CSD professionals have found positive results in working with specific undergraduate institutions in the identification and transition of prospective students to their graduate programs. Students enrolled at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (African American), Hispanic Serving Institutions (Hispanic /Latino) and Tribal Colleges (Native American) have been the beneficiaries of these collaborative efforts.

Recruitment from Special Programs

Within their individual institutions, CSD programs have found the TRIO programs (created by Title IV of the Higher Education Act of 1965 and subsequent federal legislation) to be an excellent pool of prospective minority students. These programs include Upward Bound, Talent Search, Equal Opportunity Centers, Upward Bound Math-Science, Student Support Services, Veteran's Upward Bound and Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement programs.

Retention Elements

Attracting qualified and competent minority students to CSD programs must be followed by a systemwide initiative to ensure that each student achieves success. Following are the practices that are being utilized in support of this objective:

Curricular modification

A number of CSD programs were found to have made significant adjustments to their curriculum to address the multicultural issues that clinicians will face in a diverse work environment. These modifications ranged from the structuring of externship and practicum experiences to include opportunities to practice in diverse settings and work with minority clients, to the opportunity to study languages that would be required in bilingual and multilingual settings. The opportunity for students to engage in research activities, especially when that work was related to diversity and multicultural populations, was also viewed as contributing to the overall learning experience of CSD students.

Expanded Faculty Roles and Responsibilities

One of the strongest elements in the retention of minority students in CSD studies has been the role of faculty in providing support throughout the learning experience. Faculty must first do an effective job in the classroom, but this project found that minority student success was positively affected by faculty members displaying a caring and sensitive interest in their success, a characteristic that extended beyond the classroom. Further, the presence of a diverse CSD faculty in and of itself served to encourage and support minority students.

Mentoring and Tutoring Assistance

In the institutions with exemplary practices, minority students were afforded mentoring and tutoring opportunities to help them address knowledge, skill acquisition and related competency issues as they progressed through their formal studies. These support activities were provided mostly by faculty, but often by experienced students, alumni or CSD professionals in the community.

Professional Networking Opportunities

Minority students are less likely than their majority counterparts to have racial/ethnic "role models" in the CSD professions, making early and ongoing networking opportunities an important element in how students relate their experiences in the classroom to the CSD workplace. Effective networking involves encouraging student membership in professional organizations, field observations, informal professional forums on campus and any related experiences that expose the student to the people and the environments they are preparing to enter.

Utilizing College/University Resources

Similar to the collaboration activities referenced in the recruitment section above, CSD programs wishing to support minority students utilize a variety of campus services and resources to achieve this end. Working with campus-wide tutoring and mentoring programs, minority student organizations, and TRIO programs (e.g., Student Support Services, Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement, etc.) are a few examples of how CSD programs act jointly with existing campus services and resources to facilitate minority student achievement and success.

Career Transition Elements

The most glaring deficiency in the review of CSD programs and their ability to serve minority students was observed in programs intended to assist students in their transition from school to the Clinical Fellowship, the supervised work experience required for ASHA certification. Similar deficiencies in services to minority students can also be found in other professions. While career counseling and placement services are usually shared with, or relegated to, the career services program or career placement center, the very nature of the Clinical Fellowship requires greater involvement by CSD faculty and staff.

The most effective career transition practices are those that include the following elements:

CSD Certification Examination Preparation

Minority students, as well as their majority counterparts, may require assistance in preparing for the examination that is required to achieve ASHA certification status. Racial/ethnic minority students have not historically scored as high on the ASHA Praxis exam as their white counterparts.  Elements that are most effective in  increasing exam performance are covered in detail online.

Job Placement Assistance

As students near the end of their formal education, the institution and the CSD program should be available to provide assistance in the identification of Clinical Fellowship opportunities. Many of these positions will become known through the networking opportunities afforded students during their educational experience. Others will result from the personal counseling and consultation afforded students by faculty and staff. Further, students should be guided in how to conduct job searches.

Assistance in Job Acquisition Strategies

The institution and program should make a concerted effort to assist students in addressing the tasks associated with finding employment in CSD careers. Whether provided on an individual or group basis, CSD students should have access to services that teach them how to develop a resume, participate in a job interview, and other appropriate job acquisition tasks. The CSD program, in collaboration with the institution career services office, should tailor these services to meet the specific needs of minority students.


Using a cookbook metaphor, presented herein are the ingredients present in the programs that have been effective in the recruitment, retention and transition of minority students to professions in general and more specifically to careers in speech-language pathology and audiology. The creative chef will tinker with these ingredients, not straying too far from the core elements, in the preparation of his/her personal recipe.

So it must be with institutions of higher education and communication disorder programs. A commitment to the inclusion of racial/ethnic minorities must be followed by a comprehensive and articulated series of strategies that will achieve the stated diversity and multicultural goals. The inclusion of the elements cited in this report will point institutions and CSD programs in that direction.

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