SRU Trustees send quartet of programs to BOG for approval


jeff smith and cheryl norton

(From left) SRU Trustee Jeffrey Smith and President Cheryl Norton react to the advancement of four new degree programs.

Dec. 4, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Slippery Rock University's council of trustees voted to advance four new degree programs to Pennsylvania's State System of Higher Education board of governors for approval.

The quarter of programs, a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, a Master of Science in Health Informatics, a Master of Science in Athletic Training and a Master of Music Therapy, will be presented for action at the BOG's Jan. 20-21, 2016 meeting.

The Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages degree, a linguistically based program, focuses on second language acquisition studies and the teaching of adult English language learners.

The program, which offers a flexible curriculum that follows TESOL International Association standards for best practices, would require 30-33 credits and provide graduates with advanced skills in adult learners' productive and receptive skills based on communicative competencies. The blended pedagogy would involve face-to-face teaching and online learning. Students could complete the program in 16-24 months.

The program is needed, organizers say, because evidence shows that Pennsylvania and the region are seeing an influx of immigrants who are increasingly less proficient in English. "This lack of proficiency," said Marnie Petray, instructor of English, "will be an economic and social barrier for hundreds of thousands of people. In Pennsylvania alone, the percentage of foreign-born residents doubled from 3.1 percent in 1990 to 6.2 percent in 2013. This represents almost 800,000 people in 2013."

SRU's program is unique from other programs offered in the state, Petray said, because it:

• Is interdisciplinary;

• Will be the only hybrid degree program;

• Utilizes a theoretically-driven praxis approach;

• Is competency based;

• Requires a practicum experience; and

• Will be offered cohort style, which has been known to promote retention and completion rates.

The proposed Master of Science in Health Informatics would be a 10-month, full-time program requiring 33 credits, with an optional part-time sequence to accommodate working professionals.

"Healthcare," said Sam Thangiah, professor, computer science, "is in the midst of an information revolution as organizations rapidly adopt information systems to improve both business operations and clinical care. Along with a demand for data to improve decision-making is a demand for informatics specialists; people who can use technology tools to support the management of information." In fact, the Education Advisory Board predicts that the healthcare industry will be one of the industries with the greatest demand for data talent.

Health Informatics, Thangiah said, is a broad, interdisciplinary field that lies at the intersection of computer science, mathematics and public health. Students would be expected to have completed previous course work in computer science or a closely related field.

The program would offer concentrations in public health, data analytics and healthcare management. A required capstone/internship course would provide an opportunity for students to acquire relevant experience and demonstrate competencies in an applied field of interest; and prepare students for technical, clinical and administrative leadership by educating them in healthcare issues, knowledge discovery, visualization and management, ethics, privacy and law governing healthcare data, cyber security and software development. Working health professionals would realize enhanced skills with consequential benefits for the communities they serve.

SRU's program will be unique, Thangiah said, because it: is interdisciplinary; requires a course in big data; is online, utilizes experiential learning; is poised for future 3+2 programs; and will serve the needs of the expanding northern and western suburbs of Pittsburgh.

The proposal for an entry-level Master of Science in Athletic Training would transition SRU's current undergraduate athletic program to a graduate offering. The need to transition the program is based on a decision by the Strategic Alliance of the Board of Certification, Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, National Athletic Trainers' Association and National Athletic Trainer's Association Foundation to require a master's as the professional entry-level degree.

"A seamless transition of the current undergraduate athletic training program to a graduate-level professional degree will build upon the success that the program has achieved over the last 41 years, and align with the future direction of the profession and healthcare," said Jackie Williams, associate professor of exercise and rehabilitative sciences.

The program would require 63 credits of classroom courses with clinical experiences over two consecutive years. To maintain the University's service to its undergraduates, there would be a 3+2 track that will allow students to enter Slippery Rock as freshmen and earn both a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years. Students in a traditional model will complete a bachelor's degree in four years in fields such as exercise science, physical education, therapeutic recreation and public health.

Market demand for athletic trainers is very strong, Williams said. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's long-term employment projections show above-average growth for athletic trainers for 2012-2022 at 2.1 percent compared to 0.8 percent for other professions.

One of the strengths of SRU's proposed program, name said, is that it will utilize an interdisciplinary approach that builds upon the SRU's successful undergraduate program. "SRU undergraduates have a 91 percent first-time pass rate on the national certification exam. This places us in a tie for first-place among State System schools with athletic training programs," Williams said.

The Master of Music Therapy would prepare advanced-level music therapists to work in the rapidly-expanding field of music therapy by providing students with the opportunity to expand the breadth and depth of their knowledge and skills in the field, including advanced clinical education.

The MMT proposal is for a two-year, full-time program requiring 36 credits, with a part-time option to accommodate all students. Entering students would be expected either to have completed a bachelor's degree in music therapy or equivalency requirements. Students would have core requirements and have opportunities to take further electives in music therapy or specialty courses such as counseling, special education or gerontology. The final project/thesis would provide an opportunity for students to acquire relevant experience and demonstrate competence in an applied field of interest.

The benefits of obtaining the degree are the acquisition of advanced competencies, making them more effective therapists; greater potential to acquire jobs that require at least a master's degree, e.g., in mental health; and the greater likelihood of opportunities for promotion.

The proposed MMT would address a market need that is growing much faster than average, place SRU graduates at the front of an industry trend, and represent a fusion of the University's academic strengths of health and wellness, counseling and working with special populations, said Susan Hadley, professor of music.

SRU's program would be unique, Hadley said, because it will be the first music therapy program in the country with emphases on multicultural, social justice, insight-oriented approaches and resource-oriented approaches

If approved by the BOG, the TESOL, MSHI and MMT programs will begin fall 2016, while the MSAT will begin summer 2018.

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