To help fill the ranks of mental health professionals in Utah and beyond, the University of Utah’s College of Education is proposing a new bachelor’s degree program in educational psychology. The college hopes to have the degree approved by the Utah System of Higher Education to begin enrollment in 2021. The coursework and work-based learning experiences have been planned to lead directly to competitive, high-demand employment opportunities, say program directors Keith C. Radley III and A.J. Metz. Students can expect to earn a credential as a registered behavior technician while in the program and apply to be a board-certified assistant behavior analyst upon graduation. Graduate training, including in programs offered through the College of Education, opens additional career paths.
The proposed new undergraduate degree, the directors say, will meet the needs of students, employers and the community by preparing graduates to enter the workforce to address a local and national crisis in behavioral and mental health.
Filling a growing need
The need for mental health professionals in Utah is high. According to a report from the U’s Kem G. Gardner Policy Institute, the demand for mental health care in Utah is increasing while the state is experiencing a shortage of mental health providers in all of its counties. High numbers of children show depressive symptoms and reports show suicide as the leading cause of death among Utahns between the ages of 10 and 17.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Elaine Clark, dean of the college and faculty member in educational psychology, says she fears that Utah’s mental health crisis will only get worse and the disparity between the need for services and availability will continue to grow.
“A new educational psychology degree can help close the gap,” Clark says, “as it prepares more mental health professionals to work in our schools and community agencies.”
About the degree
The proposed B.A./B.S. in Educational Psychology will introduce students to the foundations of educational psychology, including principles of human learning and development, social-emotional growth, diversity and inclusivity, multiculturalism, research methodologies and technologies.
Applied courses will help students develop skills in individual and group counseling, behavior change, consultation, collaboration and understanding psychological problems and disabilities. Students will be able to participate in two intensive supervised field practicum experiences relevant to their interests and identified career path. Opportunities for this will take place in schools, local agencies and treatment centers.
“Students will graduate with the skill set to implement multiculturally responsive, evidence-based individual and group interventions that promote optimal human functioning in a range of contexts,” Metz says, “leading to a wide range of career paths.”
Ready to work
Once enrolled, students will have the opportunity to gain three certifications as part of the program:
- Registered behavior technician (RBT) before graduation. RBTs earn a mean salary of $31,000 per year.
- Board-certified assistant behavior analyst (BCaBA) upon graduation. BCaBAs earn a mean salary of $40,000.
- Board-certified behavior analyst (BCBA) with additional graduate coursework. BCBAs earn a mean salary of $60,000.
With these credentials, students can conduct behavioral assessments and participate in the design and implementation of interventions.
A degree in educational psychology can lead to a wide range of career paths including behavior analyst, psychological technician, child life specialist, public health educator, academic advisor, human resource specialist, college recruiter, management consultant—even wilderness therapy guide.
In addition to entering the job market, the directors say that students will also gain the knowledge and skills to help them competitively apply for master’s and doctoral programs within the department such as school psychology, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling and counseling psychology, and programs outside the department such as the Department of Education, Leadership & Policy, athletic training, the Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism and public health.
“If you’re interested in receiving training and expertise in behavioral and mental health,” says Metz, “this proposed undergraduate degree is for you.”