The UCF School of Communication Sciences and Disorders master’s program has improved its long-standing consortium track, which was designed around students working in local schools as speech-language therapists. Beginning Spring of 2022, the updated program allows students to earn their degree in fewer semesters while simultaneously working full time.
The State of Florida allows speech-language therapists with a bachelor’s degree to practice in a school setting in a reduced capacity for up to two years. By the end of those two years, they must be enrolled in a master’s program, which they have five years to complete while maintaining employment.
“The consortium track gives students the opportunity to work full time in a public-school setting while simultaneously obtaining their master’s degree,” said CSD graduate program director Jacqueline Towson. “On the other hand, most students in the traditional track are full-time students who work part-time or not at all.”
In previous years, the program was offered predominantly in the summer semester and took five years to complete. The new version offers students continuous enrollment, which they start in the spring and finish in eight consecutive semesters. This allows students to complete the program in two and a half to three years, instead of the five years it took previously.
Furthermore, the program now allows students to count their work in the schools as part of their required 400 clinical clock hours, therefore reducing the required clinical hours needed outside of their employment.
Another big change in the new track is the availability of financial aid from the Florida Department of Education to help make the program more affordable for students. Students in the previous iteration of the program were ineligible for this funding because they were not continuously enrolled. The new program, however, gives students the ability to take advantage of the funding that the Florida government offers.
“We redesigned the program to meet the needs of our students while also addressing the critical shortage of speech-language pathologists in schools,” said Towson. “The result is a win-win.”
Jane Birdsong is a graduate student in her second semester of the updated consortium track. “I was drawn to this field by the experiences I encountered with my son, who is deaf and has some other impairments,” she said. “The consortium program was my number one choice and is the perfect fit for me. It has allowed me to apply my previous life experiences while also gaining real-world experience at the same time in the school system.”
In order to be accepted as a consortium student, students must be employed for at least one semester. “Coming in with experience makes their learning much more contextualized,” said Towson.
The consortium track is a great opportunity for future speech-language pathologists who need to work while completing their master’s degree, especially if they know they want to work in a school setting.