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University Communications

January 21, 2011

La Salle’s Speech-Language-Hearing Science Program
Celebrates 10 Years

With La Salle University’s nearly 150-year history, an academic program that has only been offered for the past decade might seem young and developing in the grand scheme of things.  However, La Salle’s Speech-Language-Hearing Science (SLHS) Program is anything but that. The SLHS program began in 2000 with seven students, and has quickly become one of the University’s most successful and prestigious academic programs.

When Zane Robinson Wolf, Ph.D., Dean of La Salle’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences, decided to expand the School’s academic offerings, she brought in Barbara Amster, Ph.D., as a consultant to develop the program’s curriculum. “The Philadelphia region had only two education programs for speech-language pathologists, and labor projections were indicting a shortage in the field both locally and nationally, said Wolf. “We felt there was a need that we could help fill.”

La Salle’s Speech-Language-Hearing Science Program Celebrates 10 Years
Zane Robinson Wolf, Ph.D., Dean of La Salle's School of Nursing and Health Sciences, (third from right) and SLHS faculty and staff (from left) James Mancinelli, Director of Clinical Education;
Evelyn Klein, Ph.D., associate professor; Barbara Amster, Ph.D., Founding Director of the SLHS Programs; Jennifer Kleinow, Ph.D., associate professor; Cesar Ruiz, Ph.D., associate professor; Joan Luckhurst, Ph.D., assistant professor, and Maureen Costello, Director of the SLHS Community Clinic, celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the founding of the SLHS programs at the recent American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Conference in Philadelphia.

After approvals from the University and state agencies, the first SLHS students were enrolled in 2000, with Amster as the program’s founding director. “We started with only a handful of students, but we grew very quickly,” said Amster. “When we became a fully-accredited program by the Council of the Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in 2003, we were described as a ‘model program for the nation’ by site visitors. Soon, applications began to pour in.”

“We have been blessed with attracting extraordinary faculty who are all clinically active and engaged in research,” said Amster.  “They have served as role models for clinical excellence and have encouraged students to also become involved in research.  With the faculty’s guidance, many of our students have presented at prestigious national conferences including the recent Annual ASHA Conference in Philadelphia.”

With speech-language pathology a growing field and only 241 universities with accredited status offering master’s degrees, demand is high for La Salle’s SLHS programs and admission into the program is very limited and competitive. “One of the strengths of the program is our community sites where our students perform their clinical requirements,” said Amster. “Every site requires one-to-one student supervision, which limits the number of graduate students we enroll to approximately 35 each year.”

Over the past 10 years, more than 300 (undergraduate and graduate) students have graduated from the program, which offers an undergraduate degree, a two-year Master of Science degree, and a five-year program that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at an accelerated pace. The master’s degree is considered the entry-level degree in the profession.  

In 2005, La Salle’s SLHS faculty developed an online prerequisite-completion program called the Pre-Speech-Language Pathology (PreSLP) Program for students who have a bachelor’s degree in a different major but who want to pursue a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. “The success of our online PreSLP Program has been amazing,” said Amster. “We currently have 155 students in the program from all over the country as well as some internationally.”

The impact of the SLHS Program’s success can also be seen in the local community. The program has a partnership with the North Philadelphia Head Start Program, in which SLHS students have screened more than 2,000 pre-school children for speech, language and hearing problems. La Salle also has a partnership with the Clarke Pennsylvania School for the Deaf’s Center for Oral Education, where all students have cochlear implants or hearing aids, or both, and learn to listen and develop spoken language.

“For these children, development of listening and spoken language allows full access to social interaction with their families, communities, and mainstream society in general,” said Joan Luckhurst, Ph.D., assistant professor of SLHS. In addition, a new community clinic, located in La Salle’s St. Benilde Tower, opened its doors two years ago to serve the local community by providing diagnostic and therapeutic services.

A large part of the SLHS success is demonstrated by its graduates. For the past four years, La Salle SLHS graduates achieved a higher than 97 percent pass rate on the national ASHA certification exam. The national average pass-rate on this test is 75 percent. In addition, SLHS graduates have a 100 percent employment rate.

“I am really proud of our students and what they have accomplished,” said Amster. “The ability to communicate is one of the most basic human needs, and our students and alumni are helping people with speech, language, voice, fluency, and swallowing difficulties resulting from a variety of factors such as strokes, traumatic brain injury, autism, developmental delay, head and neck cancer, and hearing loss to have a better quality of life. They are really making a difference in peoples’ lives—it’s a great example of the Lasallian mission in action.”