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Speech@Emerson to Make Master’s in Comm Disorders More Accessible

Beginning this fall, Emerson’s graduate degree in Communication Disorders will be offered online, allowing more students to enroll in the top-ranked program, and ultimately bring more speech-language pathologists to underserved parts of the country.

Speech@Emerson will provide the same curriculum taught in the on-campus Master of Science in Communication Disorders program – ranked among the top 20 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report — and will include both synchronous (real-time) and asynchronous online classes, along with two short on-campus immersion programs. A full-time student should be able to complete the program in just under two years.

“It’s providing educational opportunities for people with jobs and families and obligations that don’t allow them to drop everything and move to Boston … for two years,” said Jan Roberts-Breslin, dean of Graduate and Professional Studies. “It’s really kind of democratizing that option for people.”

To launch the Speech@Emerson program, the College is partnering with 2U, a digital higher education platform that provides technological, administrative, and marketing support to institutions. Emerson controls curriculum, instruction, admissions, and tuition/financial aid.

Speech@Emerson will be only the second online master’s program in speech-language pathology offered through 2U. The company currently partners with New York University’s Steinhardt School on an MS in Communicative Sciences and Disorders.

“We were approached by 2U… because of the strength of the program we currently have on campus,” said Emerson College Communication Sciences and Disorders Chair Joanne Lasker. “They only partner with schools that are highly ranked and that are doing really good work.”

2UGrad, the graduate division of 2U, currently enrolls more than 36,000 students in 60 programs and more than 80 short courses. Their 34 partners include some of the top colleges and universities in the country and the world: Harvard, Yale, Georgetown, Berkeley, Tufts, Oxford, and Cambridge, among them.

Lasker said offering graduate programming online was a “natural progression” for the department.

“It’s difficult for us to build numbers in our on-campus program because of the need for clinical placements,” she said.

A typical graduate class is 45 to 50 students, selected from hundreds of applicants each year, Roberts-Breslin said. There’s room for 30 students in the first Speech@Emerson cohort, but that could scale up over time to several hundred, she said.

Every MS student needs to complete a minimum number of clinical practicum hours to satisfy both program and American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) requirements. For on-campus students, those hours are completed at Emerson’s Robbins Speech, Language and Hearing Center, and at more than 100 external clinical sites in the Boston area.

2U, through its large network, is able to help Emerson find placements for students close to where they live. Once a site is identified, the College’s director of clinical placements will ensure that the placement meets quality standards, will monitor the student’s progress, and complete virtual site visits, Lasker said.

Both synchronous and asynchronous courses will be designed by Emerson faculty, who will film the asynchronous classes in 2U’s studios in the Washington D.C. area. Video production is also handled by 2U.

Through the videos, faculty have a wide range of tools and methods at their disposal: lecturing, clinical assessments, anatomical models, light board diagramming, even live action role-playing – 2U will hire actors if a course calls for it.

Weekly synchronous courses will feature “facilitators” and “conveners” who make sure everyone stays on the same page. Students appear on the screen in a kind of “Brady Bunch” format, so they can see and interact with their classmates, as well as the professors, Lasker said.

“It’s the same program, same curriculum, same faculty [as the on-campus program], delivered through a different modality,” Lasker said.

In addition to marketing and production, 2U also works to ensure that students thrive once admitted into the program. Students are provided with a student success advisor and placement specialist.

“They will continue to have a lot of support in the program,” said Sarah Escobedo, director of program management for 2UGrad.  

The program, which has been approved in 16 states so far, begins in September with program prerequisites (applicants don’t need to have studied Communication Disorders as an undergraduate). Roberts-Breslin said Emerson is already getting applications from students in every corner of the nation: California, Texas, and New Jersey, among others.

She said 2U was surprised that Emerson is getting applicants from so far afield; typically, with a new online program, interest is much more regional.

The wide geographic appeal could be because there are areas of the country where there just aren’t enough speech-language pathologists – or training programs – to meet demand.

“There are still states in the country where there are so few speech-language pathologists that they actually take people with bachelor’s degrees provisionally,” Lasker said.

Online learning is a new frontier for some Communication Disorders faculty members, but “it’s also really exciting, because we can reach out to a whole range of students we haven’t been able to get to before,” she said.

For more information, visit Speech@Emerson


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