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New degree gives students flexibility

USF’s Department of Special Education is offering a new degree that gives out-of-field students a chance to certify in special education while obtaining their master’s something else, Nicole Hamilton, the recruiter for the program, said.

Upon completion of the Master’s of Arts in teaching special education, the graduate students will also receive certification in teaching English as a second or other language and certification in varying exceptionalities, a program where speech, language and mental handicaps are all lumped into one, Hamilton said.

To be accepted into the program, Hamilton said candidates must have an undergraduate degree in a field other than special education, with at least a 3.0 grade point average or a score of 1,000 or higher on the combined verbal and quantitative portions of the Graduate Record Exam. In addition, the student must have passed all portions of the CLAST exam and must be employed in a school teaching special needs students by the second semester of the M.A. program.

For students worried about balancing a tough schedule, this program attempts to cater to their needs.

“The best part of this program is that it’s real flexible. (The program) works with students to create a livable schedule, even though we work and go to school,” said Catherine Harrison, a first-year graduate student in the program.

As the recruiter for the program, Hamilton knows it attracts students.

“It provides a great opportunity of having a job while obtaining one’s degree and ensures a better chance of getting a job upon completion of the master’s degree,” Hamilton said.

Harrison said she wasn’t worried about trying to land a job after graduation.

“I’m already in the field, so it really helps. Plus this particular degree is in demand so the state keeps trying to find people for this field,” Harrison said.

Presently, this degree is only offered on USF’s Tampa campus, but expansion may be a possibility. The program is still in its infancy, with only 33 students enrolled.

“You know everyone in your class, and we’re there for each other,” said Harrison.

Classes are available nights, weekends and online in order to ensure ease on students with tight schedules.

The Master of Arts in teaching special education is a short program with only 48 credits, Harrison said. Students will be admitted annually in the summer term and will matriculate as members of a cohort.

“I began in the summer 2002 and will finish by fall 2003,” Harrison said.

Harrison added that having mentors in the program is a benefit for the students.

“You have a mentor from start to finish. That mentor is there for you,” said Harrison. “You don’t have to feel the pressure of evaluation because they are only there to help you and give you ideas.”

Harrison said, with this degree the group work and case studies are hands-on, which helps to ease the stresses that usually accompany obtaining a master’s degree.

“The more hands on the better. Plus they ask for our feedback,” said Harrison.

For more information about the degree contact the Department of Special Education at 974-1383.