William James’ First Undergraduate Program
Meeting the Need for More Highly Trained First Line Staff
Robert Louis Stevenson said “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” William James College is making that a reality, busily planting a veritable field of future behavioral health professionals through its first bachelor’s degree program. It is one more demonstration of the College’s commitment to building an expanded, diverse workforce for behavioral and mental health services that can meet the needs of the underserved.
William James College has focused on teaching graduate students for 40 years. Why start an undergraduate program now? “The current mental health workforce does not reflect the diversity of the United States,” says Stanley Berman, PhD, Vice President for Academic Affairs. “Diverse cultures are underrepresented in the profession and underserved when they seek behavioral health care. It’s rarely possible for them to find help from someone who shares the context of their lives.”
Many of the faculty are experienced practitioners who pride themselves on being able to deliver rigorous instruction, high-quality learning and advising experiences.”
—Marc Abelard, MEd
Program development for the Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Human Services program was led by a team of internal pioneers who crafted the roadmap and consulted with internal and external colleagues to design what will hopefully become the leading program of its type in the region. The program is specifically designed to be a bachelor’s completion program for people who haven’t been able, because of finances or circumstance, to complete their degrees.
Berman, Yousef AlAjarma, Academic Director of the program; and Marc Abelard, Director of the Bachelor’s completion program, built a blended model (online and onsite) with scheduling flexibility and a real-world curriculum that will be a magnet for working professionals, many of them already working in human services.
The program is attracting those for whom it was designed; community college graduates with Associate’s degrees, veterans, mental health workers in big agencies and non-profits, as well as outpatient clinics. The first class began its coursework in September 2017.
“Only a small number of schools offering psychology and counseling programs have put together a comprehensive offering that is this agile and relevant.”
—Yousef AlAjarma, PhD
“We know from our conversations with large human service agencies that the need is there,” says Abelard. “These agencies are seeking our guidance to create a development strategy to attract and retain a more educated, diverse workforce. We have also identified a great number of students working in human service agencies who need a pathway to obtaining a bachelor’s degree.”
William James started building the program two years ago. “It’s a program with unique flexibility, built on an innate understanding of the rigors of working full-time while trying to earn a college degree,” says Berman. “It’s a hybrid model in which students enter and progress through the three-year program in the same cohort. That allows them to work and study together and support one another.”
Classes are held online, with on-campus classes held one or one-and-a-half Saturdays a month. Each year is composed of three semesters with two courses, a six-week break each summer and a field placement experience in the final year. One hundred hours of internship is required, accrued in increments of four to six hours a week. If students work in a field related to the program, they may be able to accrue field hours in their current position.
The centerpiece of the program is its curriculum, taught by a diverse and highly skilled faculty. While in development, proposed courses went before the William James’ curriculum committee. The experts who oversee classes in our graduate programs reviewed the bachelor’s degree program. “Only a small number of schools offering psychology and counseling programs have put together a comprehensive offering that is this agile and relevant,” says AlAjarma.
The faculty is just as high caliber as the curriculum. “Many of the faculty are experienced practitioners who provide consultation to a number of behavioral health agencies throughout the state,” says Abelard. “They pride themselves on being able to deliver rigorous instruction, high-quality learning and advising experiences to students in the undergraduate program.”
The program is approved by the Department of Higher Education of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
The dedication to the bachelor’s program and its promise runs deep from the pioneers at its helm.
“For people who have the working experience but not the degree, this program is designed for them, so they can build on existing knowledge, “ says AlAjarma.
“Our president and the senior leaders of the College have placed the success of the bachelor’s program at the core of the institution’s mission,” adds Abelard.
“We own the social mission,” says Berman. “We will be successful in lifting up behavioral health professionals who will improve care and treatment for all those with mental health needs.”