Can You Grow Your Own? Here’s what one veteran learned about what it takes to add more training slots to a graduate program. Features
Free
Features  |   January 01, 2015
Can You Grow Your Own?
Author Notes
  • Bridget Murray Law is editor -in-chief of The ASHA Leader. bmurraylaw@asha.org
    Bridget Murray Law is editor -in-chief of The ASHA Leader. bmurraylaw@asha.org×
  • Alex Johnson, PhD, CCC-SLP, is provost and vice president for academic affairs at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. A past president of ASHA (2006), he is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders; 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. ajohnson@mghihp.edu
    Alex Johnson, PhD, CCC-SLP, is provost and vice president for academic affairs at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston. A past president of ASHA (2006), he is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders; 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders; 10, Issues in Higher Education; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. ajohnson@mghihp.edu×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   January 01, 2015
Can You Grow Your Own?
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, 48-50. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20012015.48
The ASHA Leader, January 2015, Vol. 20, 48-50. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR3.20012015.48
Although he won’t admit it if you ask him about it, Alex Johnson is the graduate program whisperer. He’s known for growing programs—in speech-language pathology and beyond.
It all started back in 1988, when he launched a new division of speech-language pathology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, growing it to a staff of 14 speech-language pathologists. Later, over nine years serving as chair of Wayne State University’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Johnson helped relaunch its PhD program and establish a new audiology clinical doctorate program—and the number of overall graduate student training slots grew by about 15 students per year.
Almost seven years ago, he took the reins as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, where—over the past eight years—most departments have almost doubled their graduate student enrollment. Meanwhile, CSD graduate programs, in general, have seen graduate slots stagnate, while their undergraduate ranks swell. That’s part of what’s created the training bottleneck that many are working to address.
We talked to Johnson about the general complexities of tackling the bottleneck, and what specifically programs can do to grow their own.
What are some of the different forces causing the training bottleneck?
There’s a very long neck on the bottle. If you say, “Are there enough clinical fellowship opportunities for students in places that they want to go?” the answer’s no. And you back up from that and ask, “Is there enough variety of clinical sites for students to get the experiences that they need to be successful?” The answer is no. And then you back up from that and ask, “Are there sufficient number of faculty to teach students to a level of capability that is effective?” The answer is no.
So not enough faculty, not enough clinical sites, not enough clinical fellowships in the right settings for students. And then you have the large numbers of qualified applicants that want to get into graduate programs versus the number of slots available. It is this misalignment of multiple factors that creates and perpetuates the bottleneck.
Do you think graduate CSD programs should be doing more to grow their capacity?
We have to be careful not to paint the picture that academic programs are the bad guy. Public universities are under huge pressures to maintain enrollment while cutting costs. Many programs either don’t have the faculty available in the right areas or they’re in an area of the country where it’s difficult for them to secure all the clinical placements they need. We’re all calling on clinicians in the community to supervise our graduate students, and these professionals are under huge pressures for productivity, for being fast and efficient, and I think in some ways are now less inclined to say, “Yes, I’ll take students at my hospital or my school.”
So the worst thing a graduate program could do is to take many more students than they have capacity for, because then students will have compromised training and delayed graduation. But do I think we should all be working toward maximizing our capacity? Absolutely.
Speaking of which, you’ve been successful in expanding programs you’ve been involved with. Did you come into these situations seeing an opportunity for growth? How did you go about making that happen?
It’s always about seeing opportunities and finding resources. I don’t know that my particular strength is in growth. It’s more focused on how does an organization work to meet needs … and grow organically to accomplish that. And the situations are very different, depending where you are. Wayne State is a big public university, with all of those challenges. Now here at MGH, a private institution, there are very different parameters defining capacity and success.
How do the issues with program expansion differ across different types of institutions?
If you’re in a college of health professions, you have a very important teaching and service focus. If you’re in liberal arts and sciences, you likely to have more of a strong undergraduate focus. If you’re in a science or medical school, the traditional research portfolio is probably most highly valued. So you first need to understand the world you live in, and work in that direction to increase capacity. So, for example, in a research institution, if you work to build a very successful research portfolio, it might ease some of the resource needs in other areas.
When you were at Wayne State, the speech-language pathology graduate program’s enrollment increased. What did you do there to make that happen?
It’s a research university, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is very heavily research-focused. So we focused on recruiting funded researchers, developed support in the research area, and re-energized the PhD program. And it’s two chairs later, and those pieces are still moving ahead. They’ve been able to secure other resources for graduate assistantships for master’s students and so forth.
Is it the case that in some programs you just might not be able to expand capacity?
Absolutely. If they can’t increase capacity for clinical placements in the community or get more faculty positions approved, they shouldn’t take more students. And again, in the public sector, there have been constraints in these areas for several years in many places.
Let’s look at the private sector. During your seven years at the MGH Institute, graduate enrollment has grown significantly. What’s working?
There’s been a concentrated attempt to add new programs, and to grow. But we’re kind of a unique place. We’re an independent degree-granting graduate school of health professions, so we don’t have the undergraduate challenges that other universities have to deal with. We have strong competitive programs across physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant studies, a whole array of nursing programs, and speech-language pathology.
Our speech-language pathology program, for some of the same constraints mentioned earlier, has not grown at the same rate as the other programs, but it has grown, from 40 students to about 60 per year over the past five or six years. Gregg Lof is the chair of CSD, and he and his colleagues in the department have done a remarkable job of reaching out to the community, creating new clinical partnerships and new pathways for students. They have also worked tirelessly to keep a very strong student-centered approach to their program. They have also grown the faculty and clinical staff of the program.
Tell us more about these partnerships.
They’re very creative. One thing they’ve done that’s quite unique is to develop concentrations where students can focus—for example, medical speech-language pathology, dysphasia, literacy and early intervention. That’s creating some interesting partnerships for clinical education in the community. People want those students to come.
So there’s a need to think creatively?
Absolutely. Twenty years ago, it was sort of pick up the phone and call your colleague in the schools or the hospital and say, “We have a great student. Could you take them this semester?” Now the strategy is more, “How can I build a collaborative educational relationship with the organization over a long period of time?” That’s the change.
But I don’t want this to appear like, “Oh Alex Johnson cracked the nut on this,” because I think it’s a much more complicated story. I’m just not sure that we’re all addressing these complex issues as systematically as we might. I’m not claiming to have the solution, but I do think that raising and discussing these issues is helpful.
0 Comments
Submit a Comment
Submit A Comment
Name
Comment Title
Comment


This feature is available to Subscribers Only
Sign In or Create an Account ×
FROM THIS ISSUE
January 2015
Volume 20, Issue 1