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Arnold School of Public Health


Communication Sciences and Disorders undergoes reaccreditation process for speech-language pathology programs, excelling in all areas

October 20, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 
Updated March 21, 2017

The Arnold School’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (COMD) wowed reviewers from the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) in October during their accreditation renewal visit for their speech-language pathology programs (Master of Speech Pathology (MSP) and Master of Communication Disorders in Speech Language Pathology (MCD)). All speech-language pathology programs must maintain accreditation in order to remain open and allow students to apply for national certification (i.e., Certificate of Clinical Competence) after graduation, so there was a lot riding on the evaluation. COMD knocked it out of the park. [Update: In February 2017, CAA voted to officially re-accredit the graduate education program in speech-language pathology at University of South Carolina for a period of 8 years beginning 2/1/2017 through 1/31/2025, including the distance education modality.] 

There are 270 speech-language pathology master’s programs nationwide, and each program goes up for reaccreditation every eight years. It’s a monumental task for CAA to effectively evaluate each of these programs—especially in a year like 2016 when there’s a larger than usual number of programs (i.e., around 50-60) up for reaccreditation. Still, that didn’t stop CAA from rigorously evaluating the Arnold School’s COMD programs to ensure they meet each and every one of CAA’s strict criteria.

I’m proud to report that they were able to verify every single standard and substandard, and we received a 100 percent pass rate.

-Kenn Apel, COMD Chair

The process began nearly a year ago with COMD faculty and staff collecting a breadth and depth of relevant information (e.g., faculty CVs, meeting minutes, student handbooks, survey results, etc.) about the programs to demonstrate how they meet the six primary standards and numerous substandards required for reaccreditation. In January of this year, the department submitted the enormous application to CAA. They then provided supplemental evidence via various formats at two different points leading up to the visit.

In October, the CAA reviewers arrived for their site visit where they audited documents and met with faculty, students, patients of the department’s USC Speech and Hearing Research Center (where the students engage in much of their clinical work), advisory board members, School and University leadership (e.g., Dean Thomas Chandler and Provost Joan Gabel), and various other stakeholders. After confirming that these interviews verified that the application materials demonstrated the department’s adherence to the 30 standards and substandards, the CAA review team gave the department their feedback.

“I’m proud to report that they were able to verify every single standard and substandard, and we received a 100 percent pass rate,” says COMD Chair Kenn Apel, who, as a CAA site reviewer himself, knows just how challenging it is to excel in meeting each standard. “They were extremely complimentary of our preparation for the reaccreditation and how well we met the standards. They also talked about a number of strengths of the programs.”

The reaccreditation process is a tremendous amount of work, but it provides critical oversight for the speech-language pathology profession and is a great opportunity for us to see how we stack up against these necessary standards.

-Kenn Apel, COMD Chair

The purpose of CAA is to ensure that speech-language pathology master’s programs (they also handle accreditation for audiology programs) maintain high-quality programs that adequately prepare students for the important role of serving as speech-language pathologists in schools, private clinics, rehabilitation centers, and other settings. However, the programs have flexibility in terms of how they meet the required standards. That’s where some programs rise above.

Despite the junior status of many of the COMD faculty members, the reviewers were particularly impressed with their success in obtaining grants, conducting critical research, and publishing in high-impact journals. They also recognized the synergy between academic and clinical faculty members with regard to research projects and clinical applications. “Integrating these two areas of strength within our department is a part of our strategic plan,” says Apel. “We’re very unique in that way.”

It’s been very rewarding for all of us to see our hard work and strategic planning recognized by external reviewers in the field.

-Kenn Apel, COMD Chair

The department’s focus on preparing students to become clinical scientists (i.e., clinicians who employ the latest evidenced-based scientific research) is another strategy that became very apparent to the reviewers through the reaccreditation process. They complimented the fact that all of the master’s students are involved in department research and engage in scholarship by presenting their work at research events, with some even publishing peer-reviewed papers with faculty mentors.

“The reaccreditation process is a tremendous amount of work, but it provides critical oversight for the speech-language pathology profession and is a great opportunity for us to see how we stack up against these necessary standards,” says Apel. “It’s been very rewarding for all of us to see our hard work and strategic planning recognized by external reviewers in the field.”