As Robert Serianni likes to say, “the tires have been kicked” on the University’s Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Program
. And, the result is that the program is now fully accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA).
“Accreditation lets the public know that we’re seasoned, that we’re experienced,” said Serianni, MS, CCC-SLP, FNAP, interim chair and director of program and assistant professor in the University’s College of Education and Rehabilitation
. “It really comes down to the view of the public and the students. The students now see that we’re a fully vetted program, that we’ve kicked the tires, and have worked out the kinks. And now we’re ready to soar.”
SLP Faculty & Inaugural Class
There are two levels of accreditation: One is called “candidacy,” which all new programs go through (the SLP program initially started at Salus in fall 2015 and was considered a “candidacy” program), and signifies that a program is just starting out. The other is “full,” which is a second-tier designation. No speech-language pathology student can graduate from a program that isn’t accredited, whether it be candidacy of full accreditation.
“The good thing about speech-language pathology and audiology programs are accreditation always happens before the students get here. In that initial candidacy phase, the students are protected,” said Serianni. “Other programs and disciplines may start a program and if they don’t qualify (for accreditation) by the time of their first graduating class, they have to withhold graduation so the students graduate from an accredited program and can become licensed or certified in the state where they practice.”
The full accreditation process took a year to complete. In August 2018, the SLP program had to notify the CAA that it wanted to apply for full accreditation, along with submitting a report compiled with enough valid evidence that full accreditation is warranted. The CAA looks for things such as has the program had at least two full graduating classes, has it made curriculum revisions, and does it receive positive feedback from both clients and the community.
The program is then assigned a date by the CAA – which was March 2019 – when accreditors did an on-site survey of the program. Three site visitors looked at everything about the University’s SLP program – “they opened every drawer and every closet,” Serianni said – and interviewed the University’s president, provost, dean, faculty, students, clients of the on-campus clinical facility, the Speech-Language Institute
, and members of the community.
“It was two solid days of back-and-forth with them. And at the end, they wrote a report and submitted it to the CAA,” said Serianni. The SLP program had a chance to look at the report and offer additional commentary and evidence.
The CAA typically meets twice a year – in February and at the end of July – and in those two meetings, it reviews all the applicants for accreditation. Serianni received the good news that the SLP program has been awarded full accreditation on August 15, 2019.
“I think there’s confusion between the two levels of accreditation,” he said . “Like candidacy really isn’t an accreditation, or ‘It’s a new program, are you sure you want to get involved?’ But now that we have moved from candidacy to full accreditation, the public, potential students and other programs now recognize us as a full-fledged program.”
The first SLP program graduation class under the full achieved accreditation will be spring 2020, who just started their second-year. But that takes nothing away from previous graduating classes under the “candidacy” designation.
“We always tell students that have graduated that it’s not like their diplomas are marked with little asterisks that say you came from a candidacy program,” said Serianni. “We always said you’re really entrepreneurial when you take risks coming to a newer program. There are adjustments that we make. We change course schedules, we modify curriculum. But now that we’re fully accredited, that opens us to different externship rotations, faculty look at us differently; researchers look at us differently, because we’ve made it.”
But the work isn’t over. Initial full accreditation for the SLP program is for five years, the maximum number of years awarded by CAA. In those five years, accreditors will require an annual report, submitted August 1 of every year, stating what’s new in the program, what’s changed and if so, why it changed. CAA reviews that annual report and sends feedback to the program.
“Typically they want to know what changes we’ve made and what precipitated those changes,” said Serianni. “And then they measure how successful we are. It’s a self-disclosure system.”
At the end of that five-year period, in 2024, the program will have to submit another comprehensive report and another site visit by accreditors. If all goes well, the program can become re-accredited for up to eight years.
This year’s incoming class of SLP students was at 36, with an additional 33 students now in their second year.
“Full accreditation will make us continuously assess the program and make sure that we’re meeting our goals,” said Serianni. “We’ll have to update our strategic plan, we’ll have to make sure students are successful. We track student outcome data and there are three points we have to report publicly: graduation rate, pass rate for the national exam and employment rate. As long as we’re above the benchmark of 80 percent, then the program is deemed successful.”
And, where does the program stand now on those three points?
“We’re at 100 percent on all of those,” said Serianni.