November 18, 2002 Vol. VII, No. 7

First Online Master's Degree Graduates Excel on Exam

Students Match the Performance of Their On-Campus Counterparts and Surpass National Average

Students in the inaugural graduating class of Cal State Northridge's first entirely online degree program, a graduate program in speech-language pathology, achieved an 89.5 percent pass rate on their national certification exam‹matching the success of their on-campus counterparts and surpassing the national average on the test.

The test results are critical because to become speech-language pathologists and audiologists, students in the graduate program must pass the competency test for state licensing and professional certification by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. That group represents the nation's 103,000 therapists working in schools, hospitals and nursing homes.

Cal State Northridge's graduate speech-language pathology program is the university's first and, as yet, only entirely online master's program. It also is the only fully online graduate program in that field offered in the Cal State system, and was one of the first fully online master's degree programs offered in the CSU.

"The achievements of this inaugural online class are very exciting," said Helen Castillo, dean of the College of Health and Human Development (right). "It proves that online graduate programs can play a vital role in the higher education process, while providing the same academic excellence traditional CSUN students get from on-campus coursework."

CSUN's online degree program was established in 1999 through collaboration between the College of Health and Human Development, its Communication Disorders and Sciences Department, and the College of Extended Learning. Because campus-based programs in the field were essentially full in California, CSUN administrators had looked for ways to extend the reach of their program.

In May, CSUN's first graduating class of 23 online students performed on a level equaling the university's on-campus master's program, which has maintained at least a 90 percent pass rate on the National Praxis Examination for the past ten years. The online and on-campus programs both surpassed the 75 percent national pass rate on the test.

"We recognize that credit rests with the students of this first cohort, who displayed considerable tenacity, independence and patience throughout their studies. They have been a high-spirited, enthusiastic and cohesive group," said Stephen Sinclair, chair of the Communication Disorders and Sciences Department.

Karen Green, the department's distance learning coordinator, said the nation's shortage of qualified speech-language pathologists is driving the demand for such online programs. That means CSUN's graduates in the field, both from the online and on-campus programs, are much in demand.

"With all 14 speech-language pathology programs in California full, schools can't even meet current needs. Distance learning programs are becoming more and more a necessity with campus overcrowding," Green said.

The online degree program provides opportunities for graduate students who are limited by distant locations and/or those whose established professional and personal lives conflict with master's program classes, which typically are offered during the day.

"CSUN can now reach a wider range of students throughout California, not just pulling from rural areas as had been expected, but tapping into a vast group of people without education availability," Green said.

Sinclair and professor Ed Hall first had the vision for a distance learning program in 1997 and began to investigate online training applications. Their efforts have been supported by deans Joyce Feucht-Haviar in the College of Extended Learning (right) and Helen Castillo in the College of Health and Human Development.

As a result, CSUN has the second and third cohorts totaling 47 students currently enrolled in its online master's program. The program's fourth group will start in May 2003. That could give the online program enrollment numbers on par with the on-campus master's program, which has an enrollment of about 75.

Student Janice Watson said the online program is very intense, taking great dedication, organization and balance. But it affords her the flexibility to juggle family life, work and school. "It is the best way to get a degree," said Watson. "The technical support staff is fantastic! They even respond to you on weekends. The support from the library is equally responsive. All in all, it is a great program."

The Communication Disorders and Sciences Department is the content specialist and sets up agreements with clinics, pediatric schools and hospitals in each student's area for their clinical training. On-site supervisors get stipends and create a field-support base for CSUN.

The department also created a local online group that provides a forum for students to exchange ideas and connect through chat rooms and online lectures. The College of Extended Learning provides the technological expertise and offers technical support to students.

All student materials are sent out in course packets that contain handouts, videos, CD presentations and phone cards for students needing to call the campus for advisement. The Matador Bookstore ships textbooks and even the caps and gowns for the graduation ceremonies held on the CSUN campus.

"I am a mother of three with one more on the way and I work full time," said Sarah Saxon, a student in the third cohort. "This program has made it possible for me to pursue my master's degree in the field of my greatest desire, without having to completely change my lifestyle or that of my family."

-Deborah Catanese

@csun | November 18, 2002 issue
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