FARMINGTON — Starting next year, an accelerated program offered jointly by the University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Southern Maine will allow counseling students to graduate with a master’s degree a year sooner.

The combined master’s and bachelor’s degree program at University of Maine at Farmington and the University of Southern Maine is intended to get motivated students their master’s degrees in five years instead of the traditional six and allow them to enter the growing field with less debt, said Jewel Jones, UMF associate professor of rehabilitation services, who helped develop the program over two years.

“It’s not for everyone,” Jones said. “It’s targeted for high school juniors and seniors that have a clear career path.”

Jones said the program lets students enter a field that is expanding rapidly in Maine and elsewhere.

“We can’t place our students in the job market fast enough,” Jones said. “It’s growing. It will continue to be growing.”

However, Jenna Mehnert, executive director of NAMI Maine, an advocacy group for people with mentally illness, said while the field and growing rapidly and mental health skill sets are critical in the workforce, she is concerned that the accelerated program will leave out important academic training.

“I’m pretty concerned about the less time being invested,” she said. “Right now, because we’ve switched to a mostly fee-for-service model, agencies don’t have the training dollars that they had 10 years ago. They don’t have the resources to invest in the on-the-job training that used to really develop someone’s expertise.”

Mehnert said the broad range of specialty work in social services and counseling ranges and requires specialized education.

“What they need now from academia is to come out of school with both the academic foundation and the actual skill development,” she said. “My question would be if they are going to train them on national evidence based models.”

Charlie Bernacchio, USM associate professor of counselor education in rehabilitation counseling who helped develop the program, said he can understand concerns about accelerating the academic program, because the mental health field is diverse and requires proper preparation. However, he noted the two universities had to follow all national accreditation programs in creating the program and said the core content is not lost in the five years.

“The accelerated program includes all of the core courses for the rehabilitation science majors. The intent was to get them (the students) to declare a major early so they could get into those courses more quickly,” he said.

Recently at a UMF class for rehabilitation services majors, two UMF juniors, Erika Lundgren, of Portsmouth, N.H., and Sammy Laverdure, of Auburn, said they both missed the new program and will have to complete an extra year of graduate school.

“Now I have to go get my master’s somewhere else,” Laverdure said.

Lundgren, who said she came to UMF from New Hampshire specifically for the rehabilitation program, said the accelerated program will make the program more desirable to incoming students.

“In the program, you’re not just a number,” she said.

Graduates of the five-year program will be able to qualify for both state licensing for counseling and national certification for rehabilitation counseling.

The program, which will be available in the fall of 2015, is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs and the Council on Rehabilitation Education. The certifications covers work in a variety of settings, such as alcohol and drug treatment facilities, counseling agencies, correctional facilities, independent-living programs and mental health centers. The program will start out small, taking only eight to 10 students the first year, Jones said.

Students enrolled in the program will complete their first three years at UMF earning a bachelor of science degree in rehabilitation service. Students will take applied human service courses in the rehabilitation field and three field experiences. The program also will have students take a full-time 450-hour summer internship to “gain valuable hands-on experience and explore working with the populations they are most interested in serving.”

After getting their bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation service, UMF graduates are eligible to apply for the Mental Health Rehabilitation Technician Community certification, allowing them to work in the mental health field in Maine; or they can enter a streamlined graduate application process to pave the way for them to gain early acceptance to the USM graduate program. At USM, students will complete much of their master’s coursework online and get hands-on experience at their practicum and internship.

“The students in this unique track have the chance to accelerate their education and complete both degrees in less time with a significant cost reduction. It will also include streamlining graduate admission requirements that helps them access graduate studies smoothly without interruption,” Bernacchio said.

All students will be required to take the National Counselor Exam and the international Certified Rehabilitation Counselor examinations in order to acquire state counseling licenses and national CRC certification.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

[email protected]


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