The following post is the second in a three-part series on audiology accreditation.
By Ross J. Roeser
My first blog post on audiology accreditation focused on how faculties within universities view accreditation: They aren’t looking for more things to do, shrinking budgets don’t provide additional funding, their speech-language pathology faculty colleagues must continue with CAA (Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology) accreditation, and there is a significant workload associated with continuing this accreditation process, etc.
These obstacles provide a comfortable rationale for faculty in many programs to ignore or discount the need to consider seeking to be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Audiology and Education (ACAE). Such thinking is dangerous at best. The two striking facts are that: (1) for many reasons the current CAA accreditation process has proven to be insufficient, and (2) audiology programs need to have a strong accreditation process to foster quality audiology education.
With the above two principles in mind, I began to list reasons why audiology programs should hunker down, bite the bullet, and begin the ACAE accreditation process.
The first reason that came to mind was that ACAE is now ready to begin a newly revised application process with a web-based platform that is completely online. It has taken several years to develop this new platform, which is now available. Doris Gordon, executive director of ACAE, tells me that university programs can e-mail her at email@example.com, and she will be ready to explain how the process works. The great thing is that it is totally online, so faculty can populate the system over a period of several months. And, they can do so collaboratively, rather than assigning it to the last faculty member hired or to an administrative assistant.
There are many other reasons why separate, independent audiology accreditation is important.
1. THE HEALTH OF A PROFESSION IS DICTATED BY ITS EDUCATIONAL ACCREDITATION STANDARDS
The driving force behind accreditation of any profession is the need to ensure that the profession, with complete autonomy, establishes and controls the quality of its educational standards. If inadequate care is given to the preparation of its future graduates, the health of the profession is at risk. Audiologists in academic programs must demonstrate high quality and competency to their (own) accrediting agency. Ensuring that this happens is an investment in their future. The education of students is a top priority and is the foundation for a profession and its future.
In his book “The Metaphysical Club – A Story of Ideas in America, (New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2002), Louis Menand speaks of the beginning of the professionalization of American science education at Harvard. He says, “Professionalization means disciplinary autonomy. A field of study (for any line of work) is a profession when its practitioners are answerable for the content of their work only to fellow practitioners and not to persons outside the field.” Menand points out that scientific education in American colleges before the Civil War was held back by the dominance of outside influences.
2. EXTERNAL FORCES ARE BECOMING MORE INVOLVED IN OVERSIGHT
Heretofore, federal and state governments have not controlled higher education in the U.S. This is one of the privileges of this country that is taken for granted. Government administrators, however, are now increasingly interested in the quality of the education offered by colleges and universities throughout the US, given that $227.2 billion was spent on financial aid in 2010-11.
In this country today, university administrators, faculties, and boards of trustees are in the public spotlight and are increasingly pushed to demonstrate that they truly offer programs of quality and effectiveness. A strong accreditation organization that rigorously monitors academic programs is needed to make certain this happens.
3. IT’S NOT ONLY THE DEGREE
With the recent advent of the clinical doctorate in audiology, i.e., the AuD, there was a change in the degree, but not in the educational standards. This meant that students graduating from academic programs in audiology did not know what to expect from the degree they received. It also meant that patient care in audiology was not grounded in the scope of practice necessary for treatment.
The need for rigorous new doctoral-level and comprehensive standards is critical. These standards and their interpretations protect the students in that they know they will be receiving an education at the highest level, and they protect patients/consumers in that they can rely on competency and care that is commensurate with excellence in education.
What must be realized is that challenges exist with regard to audiology’s educational model, and there are many areas where standardization is needed, as in medicine, osteopathy, pharmacy, psychology, and optometry.
4. CAA ACCREDITATION IS NOT THE MOST APPROPRIATE FOR AUDIOLOGY
The current accreditation standard, that of the CAA, is designed primarily for accrediting master’s-level speech-language pathology programs. The CAA accredits 188 programs offering speech-language pathology degrees only, 63 programs that offer both audiology and speech-language pathology degrees, and 9 programs that offer audiology degrees only. Moreover, CAA standards are not focused on doctoral programs, particularly not on Doctor of Audiology programs. Although CAA does have some standards for audiology, they are less than ideal.
The lack of focus on doctoral education in audiology detracts from the quality of education received by students in audiology programs, and it also adversely affects the audiology profession and the patients who will receive services from inadequately prepared professionals.
It is extremely important for audiology to own its educational standards. Why? Because as a singular profession and discipline, audiology must control its own destiny, and not have it controlled by another profession. This means that qualified audiologists must set the profession’s educational standards. Skilled, highly trained audiologists must serve as peers when establishing and evaluating audiology programs. This point cannot be overstated. The profession will stand to gain exponentially in the eyes of the public, i.e., the future students and consumers, when it owns its accreditation standards.
5. STUDENTS EXPECT MORE
Students today are savvier, more sophisticated, and better informed about the education they are seeking or are involved with. They also demand a reasonable return on their educational investment and want to be in position to compete for the most exciting positions in audiology upon graduation. They want to be assured that the education they receive is standardized and of the highest quality, and so they are rightfully concerned about the variability in outcomes they hear about from fellow Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) colleagues. (See Lisa Hunter’s article, “Let’s Get Engaged,” in Audiology Today.)
The success of any profession is rooted in making certain that its educational standards are of the highest caliber. Achieving this through a user-friendly and efficient process, one that enables reflection and ongoing evaluation, is fundamental to achieving successful outcomes. An association that exists for the purpose of promoting and furthering the profession must have accreditation as a primary focus.
This week, I have presented half of the reasons why audiology education is important. The second half will be published next week on Hearing Views.
Ross Roeser, PhD, is Professor and Head of the Doctor of Audiology Program at the University of Texas at Dallas/Callier Center for Communication Disorders, and Executive Director Emeritus of the Callier Center. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Audiology, and was the founding Editor of Ear & Hearing.