Michigan State University earned a prestigious new accreditation for its master’s and doctoral programs in rehabilitation counseling in July 2017.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) gave the designation following an expedited application process that included a self study and an onsite visit.
“We did really well—extremely well,” said University Distinguished Professor Michael Leahy, director of the Office of Rehabilitation and Disability Studies. “We were able to finish the application in time because we have a group of faculty that know how to work with each other, we knew the criteria and were able to demonstrate how we were aligning with that.”
Both the doctoral and the master’s programs were accredited in July. The master’s program is accredited from 2017-21 in the new CACREP system. The doctoral program is accredited from 2017-19; after meeting several standards during the next two years, leaders anticipate the program will be accredited for another two years.
To meet these standards, both programs will enhance and modify already existing curriculum and practicum to extend the accreditation, something Leahy has “no question” they will earn.
The next two years
One of the biggest elements the programs will be working on is a new and formalized student assessment system.
“We need to develop a database system that keeps track of everything as students come in, throughout the program and then after graduation,” said John Kosciulek, professor and director of the doctoral program.
Assistant Professor Andrew Nay is leading the development of the system. “We’ll create custom databases to house this information, access it, report on it, make improvements and continue to develop the programs,” he added.
Existing elements of the program will be refined and improved to meet the new standards set by CACREP. Within the programs themselves, new content will be included in courses, some course titles will change and more documentation will appear in syllabi about the accreditation. At the doctoral level, a clinical counseling practicum will be added as a program requirement for all students.
Other portions of the program will be expanded: The Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling program will expand from 48 credit hours to 60 credit hours.
“We’re looking into ideas to make content more relevant, things we can improve,” said Gloria Lee, associate professor and director of the master’s program. The master’s program had been accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) for more than 40 years prior to merging with CACREP, the new accreditation body. “We’ll look into what we’ve been doing well, what we can emphasize more, what we can add to benefit the students’ training.”
Portability and marketability
Benefiting the students was key to the College of Education team pursuing accreditation. With a degree from MSU, and the accompanying accreditation, graduates are marketable and portable, able to find jobs across the country.
“At the master’s level, it clears the road toward counselor licensure, giving graduates immediate access in all state licensing exams. At the doctoral level, it opens up the entire academic job market for our graduates,” Leahy said. “There are no job restrictions. If we didn’t do the accreditation, there would be. Our decision to go forward on the accreditation was based almost solely on the benefit to our students.”
“It gives graduates the heart of the credentials they will need,” Kosciulek added.
The accreditation adds to the existing benefits of the programs, which are ranked No. 1 in the country by U.S. News & World Report.
Assistant Professor Connie Sung says one of the keys to success is diversity. Students come from all over the world to pursue studies at MSU with diverse and distinguished faculty who have a broad range of interests.
“Students get a well-rounded training here,” Sung said. “We focus not only on teaching, but research and engagement services with the community.”
That community connection has been core to the program since the 1980s, Leahy said.
Courses are often offered at night so that students can work part-time jobs (many of which faculty help students find). This way, they can take what they learn and apply it directly and immediately into their careers.
“It’s beneficial to the students and the curriculum,” Leahy explained. “We try to bring the community alive in our curriculum through guest speakers, community engagement and sponsoring students to go to conferences. We want to really contribute to the rehabilitation and disability landscape of our state. We’re an example of what a land-grant university is all about.”