Courtesy Emerson College
In just three years, Speech@Emerson has become the largest graduate program at the college, with 654 students enrolled as of 2020.
The program, which launched in September 2018, is an online graduate degree course designed for those who wish to become speech pathologists—specialists who focus in the treatment of speech and language issues.
Speech@Emerson provides graduates with a Masters of Science in Communication Disorders, and has grown rapidly since its creation with a nearly twofold increase in enrollment between 2019 and 2020. Speech@Emerson is 384 percent larger than the second most popular graduate program, creative writing, which stands at 135 students as of 2020.
The growth is due in part to the “aggressive,” data-driven marketing tactics employed by 2U, an educational technology company that partnered with Emerson to create the program, said Amit Bajaj, a faculty member in the communication sciences and disorders department who has built several of the Speech@Emerson courses.
“Right now, if you Google ‘speech pathology,’ the first hit that you would get is Emerson College,” Bajaj said. “Because of our branding, our institutional history and the way it’s marketed in a very aggressive way, our numbers are way up [for] the online program and in-person.”
The in-person program—which follows the same curriculum and is taught by the same faculty as the Speech@Emerson program—was ranked 32nd by the U.S News and World report in its list of the Best Speech-Language Pathology graduate programs in 2020.
The program, which holds three enrollment cycles per academic year, offers the same curriculum as Emerson’s on-campus graduate speech pathology program. The cycles start in January, May, and September, with two possible timelines to choose from—20 months through a five-term track or in 36 months through a nine-term track.
In addition to synchronous and asynchronous coursework in topics like Motor Speech Disorders and Preschool Language Disorders, students are also entered into clinical placements at local sites for hands-on training.
Yousuf Haq, a fourth-semester student based in Los Angeles, said he was attracted to the program in part because he was impressed with their website.
“The front page is super simple and easy to read,” Haq said. “Other sites it’s so buried and with Emerson it’s just one page. I can tell it’s a brand new updated website.”
Due to the heavy marketing for the online program, Bajaj said he has wondered whether interest in the in-person program would decline. However, the numbers have remained steady for the in-person program, with around 500 applicants in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Bajaj said the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the number of applications they received for the program.
“I know people in a lot of other programs,” said Monica Jessen, a sixth semester graduate student. “It just got a little crazy. But because ours was already online, it made the transition really easy. There wasn’t really much difference at all, if any.”
The program has a price tag of about $70,000 without the cost of introductory courses. Last year’s enrollment of 654 students means the program is bringing in a minimum gross income of nearly $46 million. Speech@Emerson boasts a 100 percent employment rate for students post-graduation, according to the college’s website.
Bajaj said he is optimistic about the future of the program, which he believes will grow and develop within the next couple of years. He said he hopes to see more emphasis given to areas like new specialty clinics, diversity of students and staff, and telepractice—where speech pathology and audiology services are offered online.
“Telepractice goes into the more new category, and then we’re going to continue on with the specialty clinics,” Bajaj said. “We also want to focus on more diversification, and that means reaching out more to students of color, faculty of color, all in the hiring and the recruitment process and actively incorporating themes of diversity, equity and inclusion as part of the curriculum.”
Although the Speech@Emerson program uses an online format, graduate students enrolled were required to come to campus twice during the duration of the program for a three-and-a-half day immersive experience, which included a graduation ceremony. The in-person aspect has been suspended due to travel concerns.
The online format of Speech@Emerson was one of the factors that drew Jessen to the program. Jessen, who completed her post-baccalaureate program at California State University, Fullerton, said her old 30-minute commute to campus exhausted her.
“I felt like an online program would be much easier with my schedule [and] more flexible,” Jessen said. “In terms of my lifestyle it’s just more convenient and I do well with being more self-directed.”
Jessen said she doesn’t see a difference between the online program at Emerson and previous in-person degrees she pursued. She said the smaller class sizes allow for longer discussions and a more personalized experience.
“I’ve been really impressed by the faculty, just their knowledge, not only academic knowledge, but also they have done so much in the field,” Jessen said. “I’ve learned a lot by listening to their stories and their experiences. So that’s been really valuable and it’s definitely been a rigorous program, but it’s been really, really great.”
Haq said the program is still in its infancy but he believes it can grow into one of the best in the country, especially due to the morale he’s witnessed among enrollees.
“The one thing that impressed me was the positive attitude in this school,” Haq said. “Here, it’s like ‘You can do it, go get it done.’”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Amit Bajaj was the Director of Speech@Emerson. The article has been updated to reflect that Bajaj is faculty in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and not the Director of Speech@Emerson.