Public schools may face shortage of speech-language pathologists

CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolinas supply of speech-language pathologists and their assistants appears adequate at present, but a shortage looms that could hit the states public school system particularly hard, a new study shows.

Part of the reason, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill experts say, is a recent court decision requiring all of the states speech-language pathologists to hold at least a masters degree.

"In the past, N.C. schools, which employ about half of all such professionals, countered shortages by hiring individuals with bachelors degrees," said Erin Fraher, assistant director of the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC.

Data in the centers new report, "Communicating the Trends: The Speech-Language Pathology Workforce in North Carolina," project that the school system will lose about 13 percent of its workforce in the next few years due to the court decision.

The court ruled that recently hired speech-language pathologists (SLPs) with bachelors degrees upgrade to a masters by this year and that those hired prior to 1981 acquire a masters by 2005.

"This ruling could potentially have a large impact on the services speech-language pathologists provide to the growing number of students with speech and language disorders in the schools," Fraher said. "In the past 10 years, the number of students with autism has increased by more than 300 percent, and many SLPs have already voiced concerns about unmanageable caseloads."

Attrition caused by the exodus of bachelors degree-trained SLPs, coupled with growing demand for services, would drive caseloads even higher, she said. One result could be more SLPs leaving schools to work in more attractive settings such as hospitals or private practice.

The study also found that the state faces a shortage of faculty to teach in speech-language pathology programs, and unless their numbers increase, this could jeopardize the future suppl

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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