Program demand has increased by 109%—but COE units may want to steer clear

Speech-language pathology (SLP) is a can’t-miss career for an ambitious student, but prospects for COE units are more uncertain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies SLP as a high-salary, high-growth field that is set to add tens of thousands of new jobs paying $75,000 or more per year by 2024. EAB’s labor market analysis agrees: demand for speech-language pathologists has grown 109% since 2014. Program directors report having far too many applicants for the number of available seats, allowing them to admit students with average GPAs of 3.8 or higher.

The prospect of full classes is tempting, but external factors make SLP a daunting choice for a new program launch. Like many other health professions, SLP is a highly regulated field with licensure—and thus accreditation—required in every state.

But not all that glitters is gold

Earning accreditation presents two primary hurdles for new programs: clinical placements and faculty. Clinical placement agreements must be in place for students before accreditation is granted. Practicing speech-language pathologists are not as numerous as their counterparts in other therapy fields, like physical therapy and occupational therapy, and the accrediting body sets a high standard for any practitioner who takes a student. Supervising practitioners must spend time with students on non-revenue activities, directly limiting earnings. Some programs report compensating practitioners for placements just to keep the program compliant with accreditation.

Qualified faculty can be just as rare. To earn program accreditation, all faculty must have a doctoral degree and a smaller number of faculty must have a research focus. Most students enter SLP because they want to help people, not because they want to teach, and thus do not pursue the doctoral degree. Speech-language pathologists with a doctoral degree are often able to earn more as a practitioner than as a professor, compounding the recruitment challenge for universities.

These obstacles are similar to the ones posed by physical therapy and occupational therapy, but the degree of the challenge is greater for new SLP programs. Even some of the most prestigious programs are unable to grow their programs. The director of a top-ten program in an urban area bemoans,

“Even in my city with hundreds of practitioners, we can barely find enough clinical placements. We have the teaching capacity to grow the program, but placements limit our growth.”

There may be localized opportunities in areas with many providers and no university offering an SLP program, but COE units should tread carefully. External factors like accreditation and clinical placements can turn a can’t-miss investment into an expensive program that cannot achieve scale.

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