Should your university consider launching a speech-language pathology program? Projected growth in employment for speech-language pathologists, coupled with rising demand from students for speech-language pathology programs, suggests it's worth thinking about. And it’s no wonder. Speech-language pathology programs offer a straight-forward track to employment and often include ample opportunities for customization via concentrations, making these programs highly attractive to today’s graduate and adult learners.
So, can your school capitalize on growing employer and student demand for speech-language pathology programs? It depends on your capacity, existing resources, and growth strategy. Below, we’ve analyzed why speech-language pathology might be an especially attractive program for your prospective students and offered some recommendations as you consider whether this is a program worthy of investment.
Strong employment projections suggest this field will yield strong return on investment for students
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to increase 29 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the eight percent average growth projected across all occupations. This suggests a degree in speech-language pathology will provide robust job opportunities and therefore a return on investment for program graduates, an important factor in adult students’ decisions to pursue further education.
Several factors are driving the projected increase in employment of speech-language pathology professionals. The BLS expects there will be a need to replace speech-language pathologists who retire or change careers. The BLS also predicts a growing elderly population will drive demand, as aging increases the instances of health conditions like strokes and dementia which can cause speech impairments.
Speech-language pathologists also commonly work with kids. Thirty-eight percent of speech-language pathologists work in educational services, according to the BLS. Greater awareness of the importance of identifying speech impairments early has contributed to more young children receiving speech therapy. Coupled with federal laws guaranteeing special education and related services for children with disabilities, demand for speech-language pathologists in educational settings is expected to increase as school enrollments rise.
Consider the potential for market saturation and high start-up costs before launching a new program
Across the last five academic years, growth in student demand has outpaced the growth in institutions offering speech-language pathology programs—a favorable market trend for schools looking to launch new speech-language pathology offerings. In this period, completions increased 2.74 percent per year on average, while the number of institutions offering speech-language pathology programs increased 2.05 percent per year on average.
But speech-language pathology programs remain an expensive degree to launch. In order to receive accreditation through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, programs must provide proof of adequate clinical space, teaching facilities, and up-to-date equipment, which all increase start-up costs.
Additionally, a swift rise in new programs could cause market saturation. Consider whether well-established programs in your area are already capturing the bulk of student demand before launching a new program. EAB’s Market Insights services can provide the data and guidance to answer your questions on program design and competition in your local and regional markets.
Certificate programs are one way to test the waters before launching a full speech-language pathology degree. Since they often cost less to launch than full degree programs (especially those with stringent accreditation requirements, like speech-language pathology), certificates can help you gauge demand without significant upfront expenditures. Check out the University of Vermont’s SLP Pre-Master’s Track or Castleton University’s Speech-Language Pathology Essentials certificate for ideas on how to structure a new program.
In addition to undergraduate science coursework, many Master’s of Speech-Language Pathology programs require students to complete a number of subject-specific pre-requisites. Look at your portfolio to see which resources from existing programs align with these requirements and could be available to students interested in speech-language pathology.
Optimize your existing speech-language pathology programs for growth
Our Professional and Adult Education Forum researchers have found students demonstrate increased interest in programs that market graduate outcomes as proof of return on investment. In addition to relevant market data—including potential earnings and expected employment growth—advertise graduate placements on your webpage alongside PRAXIS exam passage rates to demonstrate your program’s value.
Students also seek programs with opportunities for customization to help them to achieve their specific goals. Consider offering concentrations within your speech-language pathology program to address this need. For example, Vanderbilt University advertises specialty tracks in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Early Identification and Management of Children with Hearing Loss, and School Speech-Language Pathology.
Once your program has been optimized for growth, consider enhancing your recruitment marketing to better reach and enroll students. To maximize the impact of your marketing materials, ensure your marketing copy and imagery is tailored to student intent and behavior. As leaders of graduate and adult-serving programs know, no two students have the same journey to enrollment—and the marketing messages that resonate with one prospect may not appeal to another. A (potentially) hot ticket program like speech-language pathology deserves a robust, responsive marketing strategy that appeals to a variety of applicants.