January 30, 2009

Demand fuels behavior analysis program growth

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A new off-campus master’s program that begins in February in Joliet will double the number of students in the behavior analysis and therapy program offered through Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Rehabilitation Institute.

“In a time when SIUC wants to increase enrollment by 10 percent, we just gave it 100 percent -- in one semester!” said Professor Mark A. Dixon, who put the off-campus component together.

Behavior analysis, formerly known as “behavior modification,” studies the relationships between behavior and its consequences in trying to understand what people do and say. Widely publicized successes in treating children with autism, increased use in schools, facilities for the developmentally disabled and nursing homes, and beginning salaries that have more than doubled in the last decade have led to heavy demand for training.

“When I arrived at SIUC in 2000, our program had about 25 applicants each year, and we admitted 10 to 15 students,” Dixon said.

“Now we have more than 100 applicants, and we admit 25.”

Based at Trinity Services Inc., a non-profit corporation offering a variety of services and programs to children and adults, the new three-year program will consist of a mix of online and faculty-taught courses.

“While we’re struggling (as a faculty) to keep up with the continued demand, we did not hire faculty specifically for these courses,” Dixon said.

“They will all be taught by our tenure-track faculty to ensure that the quality of the courses is the same as it would be on campus.”

Originally planned to accommodate 20 students from Trinity, Dixon now expects 40 enrollees, about half from agencies in Joliet and nearby Chicago.

“The demand was beyond anything we thought would be possible,” he said.

“I’m still getting five e-mails a day from people in the Chicago area who want to get in.”

Dixon attributes some of the demand to the existence of a similar program he set up three years ago at the Goldie B. Floberg Center in Rockton.

“That was a substantial success in getting the University’s name out in the northern part of the state, and we showed it could be done,” he said.

“In May, there will be 20 new behavioral analysts who will go out and do good things.”

Dixon also is working to set up a third such program at the Judevine Center for Autism in St. Louis, which he hopes to have up and running late this year.

In addition to the full-scale graduate programs, the institute offers five online courses aimed at helping those who already have master’s degrees -- and in many cases, full-time jobs -- qualify for professional certification, a requirement by the field’s national board.

“We began our online sequence in 2001 with three students,” Dixon said.

“We now have 70 students each semester. We often have to turn people away -- even online. While it’s extra work for the faculty, we feel it’s important for the field, the state and the University, so we’ll just continue to struggle to keep up with that continued demand.”

For more information on behavior analysis at SIUC, visit the program on the Web at http://sites.google.com/site/batsiu/ or e-mail Dixon at mdixon@siu.edu.