Northern Arizona University is streamlining the path to become a speech pathologist.

NAU’s Online Leveling Program in Speech-Language Pathology provides students a way to move into the field of communication sciences without having to leave current employment. As the state’s population grows, so does the need for a skilled workforce to treat communication disorders.

“Our program is responding to the need for trained speech pathologists in K-12 and health-care settings,” said Bill Culbertson, a professor of health sciences at NAU. “Since the professional entry level education for this field is a master’s degree, there has been great demand for a viable means to complete the educational requirements for entry into graduate programs and become part of the trained professional workforce to treat communication disorders.”

Speech and pathology disorders include speech articulation disorders, delayed language development, stuttering and voice disorders that follow head injuries or stroke.

The “leveling program” is bringing students with a bachelor’s degree to the same level as those who already completed the prerequisite courses for graduate study in speech pathology.

NAU offered its first online course in speech pathology in fall of 2000. An online certificate program for speech-language pathology assistant training was added in 2004, funded through federal and private grants: It included two of the seven leveling courses. The remainder of the leveling courses were developed and offered through an Arizona Board of Regents Reach Out “ARRO” grant, with the first of the new online courses offered in spring, 2008

When the courses filled fast, the university added to the course offerings with additional courses in fall 2009, and those “filled immediately,” Culbertson said. “The enrollment popularity of the program is very exciting.”

To date, more than 280 students are enrolled in NAU’s online speech pathology program.

The program was developed in NAU’s Speech-Language Sciences and Technology Program of NAU’s Health Sciences Department in its College of Health and Human Services.

For information about the program, go to http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/%7Ehs-p/programs/speech/leveling.php