The demand for professionals in communication sciences and disorders (CSD) may compel program directors to consider an expansion of their graduate programs to increase student capacity. Determining feasibility for increasing student capacity requires careful consideration.
Three variables consistently emerge in the literature concerning graduate program advancement and development: mission, quality, and resources. These are the variables that both motivate program capacity expansion and ensure the availability of resources required for expansion. The underlying element that binds these variables is collaboration among the program director and institutional leaders who will ultimately decide if and when resources will support any expanding capacity. Mission, quality, and resources become central to the feasibility study conducted by program directors and administrators.
Institutional Mission, Values, and Goals
Program directors who seek to advance enrollment capacity should first carefully examine the institutional mission statements approved by their governing bodies and review the institutional goals and priorities typically established by presidents, provosts, and deans to verify that their programs reflect the institutional mission, values, and goals.
University, academic college, and graduate school/college missions and priorities that focus on career specialization and credentialing create the ideal environment for expanding the capacity for programs in speech-language pathology and audiology. Institutional priorities and values that include service learning, community service, and outreach achieve the required foundation for advancing enrollments in service professions such as speech-language pathology and audiology. Institutional missions that focus on allied health professions, clinical professions, and rehabilitation are positioned to use the institutional mission and values as a means of advancing the size and scope of the program.
During a regional accreditation review by the North Central Association’s Higher Learning Commission, Eastern Illinois University (EIU) mapped pathways to its future by linking to its historical mission and achievements. Similarly, programs in CSD must provide that voice during the accreditation process because the graduate degrees they offer must be part of the academic discourse about the future. Kohl and LaPidus (2000) noted that professionally focused degrees, such as the master’s degree in speech-language pathology and more recently the clinical doctor of audiology (AuD), are emerging as the degrees of choice for jobs and careers. LaPidus argued that some of the defining characteristics of the professionally focused degrees including specialization, application, professionalization, and defined professional competencies are expected pathways of future growth for graduate studies.
Establishing Criteria for Graduate Program Quality
A program’s ability to advance enrollment and ultimately the investments required to support those enrollments is tied directly to measures of quality. A second achievement in promoting healthy expansion is the ability to provide evidence that the program meets or exceeds the standards of excellence expected by the institution and the profession.
Typically, quality assessment is completed in two types of reviews—external and internal. External reviews, such as accreditation reviews conducted by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), state board of education, or regional accreditation agencies, which conduct reviews for the entire institution such as The Higher Learning Commission, typically provide a summary of how the program or institution meets expected criteria. These reviews also provide summaries of program strengths and weaknesses, used as a guide for program improvement and future development.
Likewise, a review that is critically important for making a case to expand program capacity is one that provides evidence that the program meets or exceeds the institution’s own criteria for quality. These internal quality reviews may be assigned titles that note distinction and prestige, such as “best in class” or “signature programs.” Such reviews are organized according to standards that articulate the institution’s culture and expectations for high quality, not the minimum standards that are the purview of accrediting councils.
Haworth and Conrad (1997) identified five performance clusters defining excellence in master’s education that made up the concept of the engagement theory of program quality. The clusters are as follows: diverse and engaged participants, participatory cultures, interactive teaching and learning, connected program requirements, and adequate resources. These clusters of quality were redefined by EIU’s Council on Graduate Studies to create a model of quality that could be used to identify and advance master’s programs that meet and/or exceed the institution’s highest level of performance. The review program title selected at EIU was First Choice Graduate Program and was bonded to a presidential priority that the institution strive to become the “best in class” and to the provost’s planning priority that the University develop programs of “first choice” for students who seek to study at EIU. The performance clusters identified by Haworth and Conrad (1997) were reconfigured and aligned with the mission of graduate education that had undergone campus-wide discussion and approval by EIU’s Council on Graduate Studies.
Collaboration in Capacity Building: Resources and Facilities
Meeting the institution’s mission, vision and goals, and the institution’s highest expectations for quality, offer two of the three pathways for expanding program capacity. The final pathway must be a well-defined process for integration with the academic dean’s vision or plans, through which access to resources and facilities that are essential to capacity building will be provided.
Expanding a program calls for significant resources to meet the needs of additional faculty and students. Ensuring that the resources are available for an expansion requires that the program engage in planning with its dean well in advance of the expansion implementation date. While the expansion may be needed, the dean may have other commitments that take priority for the next year or two. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to plan the expansion 3–5 years prior to implementation. If additional facilities are expected, planning must begin early enough for renovation or construction to be completed.
Accordingly, prospective funding sources must be identified. Those funding sources might be derived from reallocations within the college or new funding sources (special appropriation, grants, and/or gifts). To advance its plan, a program should demonstrate its own investment in the expansion to the dean by realigning its priorities and allocating funds to support the expansion. These strategies might include creating greater efficiencies in the curriculum and program delivery, shifting fee income to support the academic program, and/or converting clinical teaching lines to tenure track lines.
Since most CSD programs function at full student capacity, an expansion is likely to require additional faculty. Given the competitive market for PhD-level faculty, the program should be strategic in its recruitment. Offers should include competitive salaries, startup packages with equipment funds, release time, graduate assistants for research, and commitments to support professional travel if possible.
Furthermore, support for additional students is also a consideration. More students may require additional resources (physical, technical, support), teaching materials and equipment, on- and off-campus client populations and practicum sites, and support for graduate assistantships. Additional students will certainly generate additional income; however, it is rare that the program receives the additional income directly or that cost increases are covered by tuition.
Equally important, accredited programs should also contact their accrediting agency to learn about timelines and requirements for substantive change plans. Typically, the accrediting agency requires a description of the expansion/change and evidence that the program has the resources and programmatic changes in place to support and sustain the expansion.
Through advance planning with the institution leaders, particularly the academic and graduate deans, the program expansion can be successful, and our communities and professions will be well-served by additional professionals entering the workforce.
Future Focus of Expertise
Expanding a program offers a department and college a unique opportunity to establish a new area of scholarship or a new research profile that may not currently exist. Features that will launch the premier programs of the future will include those that are responsive to interdisciplinary scholarship, global collaborations, technology-driven change, and continuing study of the effectiveness of the assessment and treatment protocols used in the speech-language-hearing professions. Programs that are approved for expansion earn the opportunity described earlier by Rhodes (2001) to offer degree programs that address societal needs and public priorities. Programs that invite new faculty members who have the expertise to study the effectiveness of telepractice and who arrange for linkages with universities and agencies through study abroad will be in high demand. Programs that attract faculty who promote collaborative interdisciplinary research and who advance literature in emerging areas such as traumatic brain injury for returning veterans or new rehabilitation for patients opting for new technologies will be part of the future of the disciplines. In fact, program expansion offers the opportunity to advance the program’s mission while simultaneously creating its future.
To summarize, expanding a program’s enrollment capacity is a collaborative effort among the program, college dean, and graduate school dean. These leaders must have the tools to make a strong case that expansion reflects the institution’s mission, vision, and goals. Program expansion also carries with it the responsibility to consider how the program will meet the future of the professions, rather than only increase its capacity to offer the same curricula for more students. Programs that are aligned with the institutional mission, values, and goals, that exceed the standards of excellence of the institution, and that are prepared to engage in planning discussions with the campus leaders are well-positioned to expand capacity and lead professional education in CSD into the future.
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