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Speech certification program addresses state shortage

ASU graduate student provides speech therapy to preschooler
July 19, 2010

In Arizona and across the United States, the number of children requiring speech and language services in public schools is rising faster than can be matched by the number of qualified speech and language pathologists. Last year’s state Department of Education survey of special-education directors reported 176 vacancies for speech and language pathologists in Arizona schools alone. 

To help close the gap, Arizona State University’s Speech and Hearing Science Department will implement a program to certify its undergraduate students as speech and language pathologist assistants, or SLPAs. Upon completion of the certificate, SLPAs will be able to work in the field under the supervision of a fully qualified speech and language pathologist, much like physical or occupational therapy assistants. Arizona began licensing SLPAs in February 2010. 

Speech and language pathologists help people with an extensive range of communication disorders, including hearing impairment, autism, mental retardation, voice disorders and stuttering. With more children being diagnosed with language impairments and a large increase in the number of disabilities that have accompanying speech and language disorders, more special-needs students are enrolling in public schools, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. 

The entry-level degree for a speech and language pathologist is a master’s, in addition to clinical training and a fellowship year. Those requirements are critical to creating a prepared and experienced professional, according to Cathy Bacon, a clinical associate professor of speech and hearing science in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. But the path from a bachelor’s degree to a real-world position can mean a long wait – for both potential specialists and the schools that need them. 

“The department of speech and hearing science at ASU is in a unique position to address the critical shortage of language and speech services in the state,” Bacon said. “Our undergraduate program already provides a rigorous basic scientific background to understand the fundamental processes and disorders and disease of speech, language and hearing. This certificate program will provide clinical training and coursework to allow undergrads to practice in the field prior to pursuing a master’s degree.” 

A preliminary survey given to undergraduate speech and hearing students showed “overwhelming” enthusiasm about the certificate, Bacon said, with more than 75 percent of students saying they would be “interested” or “very interested” in completing the certificate and almost 85 percent saying they thought future students would be interested or very interested. Representatives from the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Department of Education’s Exceptional Student Services section have also expressed their support. 

The certificate is designed to be completed by speech and hearing majors in their last two semesters of undergraduate work. The first group of students pursuing the certificate will begin in August 2010. 

Coursework for the SLPA certificate will cover clinical methods, treatment of communication disorders, professional issues and ethical considerations, Bacon said. Internships in schools, hospitals and clinics will provide field-based clinical training including the 100 hours of clinical interaction required for SLPAs. The clinical training sites and supervision needed for the SLPA certificate are already in place for the graduate program, and they can be expanded without compromising the master’s program, she said. 

“SLPAs can increase the availability, frequency and efficiency of speech-language pathology services in all practice settings, including schools, hospitals, clinics, home health care and long-term care,” Bacon said. Creation of the SLPA certificate is, according to Bacon, in step with ASU’s overall mission “to provide innovative quality training programs for high-need populations in Arizona.” 

For more information, contact ASU speech and hearing adviser Tiffanie Flores at 480-965-4520 or


Written by Maria Polletta (

Carol Hughes,
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences