Posted 8 a.m. Monday, March 21, 2022
UW-La Crosse to offer unique program to grow state’s school psychologists
A new online program at UW-La Crosse aims to help address Wisconsin’s extreme shortage of school psychologists.
Working with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Department of Education on the School Based Mental Health Professionals Grant, UWL is adding an online program to its esteemed traditional program that will allow current teachers to become endorsed as a school psychologist while continuing to teach.
Rob Dixon, director of the UWL school psychology program, says the new program has three main goals. First, it addresses the extreme shortage of school psychologists who are working to meet the academic, behavior and mental health needs of the state’s students. Second, it works to curb the growing need to fill positions in rural districts — all while keeping teachers in the classroom as they get advanced credentials. Finally, it will help to diversify the field of school psychology within the state.
“There are many educators who want to become school psychologists but can’t leave their communities and jobs to attend a face-to-face program,” explains Dixon. “This extends UW-La Crosse’s reach to provide the knowledge and skills in the hands of educators who can then make a difference in a child’s life.”
Dixon says the new program is the first in the state — and one of only three in the country — to offer online studies in school psychology designed for full-time teachers.
“While other programs seek to find that balance between distance, face-to-face and hybrid, we will be the only program in the state to offer asynchronous, online education in school psychology to meet the needs of the state,” Dixon notes. “We are only the third program in the country to offer this unique type of programming.”
Dixon expects a lot of interest in the new offering.
“Just recently, I got a call from a superintendent thanking us for the program,” Dixon says. “He said his district has been through seven different school psychologists in eight years. He is looking to this program to provide some stability to his district.”
UWL’s traditional school psychology program typically graduates 12 licensed students a year. Dixon says they get multiple job offers. Most seek positions in urban or suburban locations, he notes, leaving rural districts scrambling. While the impact of graduates from the new, online program is a few years off, Dixon anticipates an additional dozen students graduating annually will help meet the long-term needs of the state.
UWL will work with the Wisconsin DPI on the School Based Mental Health Professionals Grant to target rural districts, prioritize attracting individuals who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the local population, and recruit qualified teachers who will be supported by their school districts in pursuing the school psychology degrees. The first students will begin classes in summer 2022. Applications are currently being accepted at: https://www.uwlax.edu/grad/school-psychology-online/
The U.S. Department of Education’s School Based Mental Health Professionals Project and DPI are providing critical support for the program’s start-up costs, including $20,000 for tuition waivers during its first year.
Karen Horn, school-based mental health professionals educational consultant with the Wisconsin DPI, says UWL’s program aligns with the U.S. Department of Education grant goals and is positioned to increased needed school psychologist candidates for schools across Wisconsin..
“Wisconsin was one of six states awarded a $10 million grant from the Department of Education to increase the recruitment and retention of school psychologists, school counselors and school social workers while also increasing the diversity of these professions so that they are more representative of the students they serve across the state,” notes Horn.
Those accepted into the program will remain in their current teaching positions while taking the online program. They will complete their practica and internship hours in the school where they are currently teaching.
The online program addition isn’t the first innovative aspect of the UWL school psychology program. It recently received a grant with the university’s adapted physical education master’s program to provide interdisciplinary learning opportunities meeting the diverse needs of special education students.
Also, UWL’s school psychology program continues to accumulate top honors. It boasts six students in as many years to receive the Elizabeth Lindley Woods Scholarship Award, which honors Wisconsin’s top graduate student in school psychology.
The school psychology program is one of more than 20 graduate programs offered at UWL. The programs include online, blended and on-campus offerings in business and management; higher education; K-12 education; science, engineering and math; clinical fields; and health and wellness.
Meredith Thomsen, dean of Graduate & Extended Learning, is coordinating the new online program and is excited that it’s working to curb the state’s shortage of school psychologists.
"We know that the pandemic has increased the prevalence of mental health issues in our schools," says Thomsen. "UWL Graduate & Extended Learning is honored to be playing a supporting role in a program that will help meet that need."
Learn more about UWL’s graduate programs at: https://www.uwlax.edu/graduate-studies/graduate-programs/