Helping People Accomplish Their Goals
As demand for rehabilitation counselors increases, College of Education scholarship program puts master’s degree within reach
The demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to outpace the average for other occupations through 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The need is no less in Idaho.
In fall 2015, the University of Idaho’s College of Education received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to educate new rehabilitation counselors, who help people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities find jobs. The grant will cover 42 scholarships over a five-year period for students seeking a master’s degree and covers tuition, fees, books and supplies, and travel to professional conferences.
Students who receive the scholarship agree to work two years at a vocational rehabilitation agency for every year they receive a scholarship. UI offers the program at its centers in Boise and Coeur d’Alene.
“Training high-quality rehabilitation counselors is a key investment in the well-being of our communities,” said Bryan Austin, Ph.D., grant project director and program coordinator for UI’s Rehabilitation Counseling and Human Services program, part of the College of Education’s Department of Leadership and Counseling. “Idahoans with disabilities are far less likely to be employed than members of the general population, and rehabilitation counselors work with them to close this gap, help them to achieve their vocational goals and become independent.”
Caldwell resident Aaron St. George graduated from UI in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a minor in addiction studies. He wanted to continue his education, but was struggling to find a graduate program that matched his interests until he learned about the Rehabilitation Counseling and Human Services program at UI Boise.
“Graduating from this master’s program opens the door to several career options beyond social work, which was one of my main goals,” St. George said. “The scholarship also allows me to focus on the classes and not have to work full time.”
For Alecia Harris, who currently works with children with disabilities for the West Ada School District, going back to school was a big decision.
“After leaving academia 15 years ago, going back to school and working full time was a huge step in my life and a big transition. The scholarship makes the transition easier and takes the stress off,” she said. “I’ll be leaving my job to focus on the classes knowing that when I graduate I have a job lined up with several options.”
UI graduates can work in places such as the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Partnerships of Idaho, Access Behavioral Health Services, Disability Action Center and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Idaho’s State Vocational Rehabilitation program reports that it helps more than 13,000 people annually and the numbers are growing. Entry level counselors are paid $41,000 annually.
“Our caseload is very full,” said Nanna Hanchett, field services chief for the state’s department of vocational rehabilitation. “But it’s extremely rewarding work. We’re helping individuals with disabilities accomplish their goals. When they do, it’s a tremendous feeling.”
Article by Maria Ortega, University of Idaho Boise