Members of the Missouri State University Board of Governors today approved a new degree for Missouri State University-West Plains (MSU-WP) that will train students for careers in behavioral and mental health.
Board members approved the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Community Behavioral Health Support degree at their regular meeting in Springfield today. The program now will be presented to the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education (CBHE) at its April meeting for final approval.
The 61-credit-hour program will prepare students to enter the workforce as community support specialists for those with behavioral and mental health diagnoses, said Dr. Michael Orf, interim dean of academic affairs at MSU-WP.
“Jobs in this field have traditionally been held by bachelor’s degree graduates, but the need is so great, the Missouri Department of Mental Health has approved students with this degree eligible to be hired for these positions, allowing immediate entry into the field,” he said.
Job growth projected
Based on current employment trends in Missouri, officials estimate 500 new job openings each year for community support specialists, with an estimated 22 percent increase in job outlook, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, Orf said.
Students who complete the program and enter the workforce in one of these positions can expect to earn $28,000 to $32,000 annually, based on information from the Missouri Department of Health, Orf said.
Need for program outlined
University officials were first approached three years ago by officials at Ozarks Healthcare about the need for the program locally, Orf explained.
“After a couple of the two-year colleges in Missouri started their own programs, we contacted the Missouri Coalition for Community Behavioral Healthcare to begin working on the degree and to determine the need for the degree in our area,” Orf said.
Officials determined there is a need in the area due to the growing number of individuals who exhibit behavioral health issues, including substance abuse, in south-central Missouri and throughout the state and the nation.
In recent years, the prescription opioid crisis has dramatically increased the number of individuals seeking help in southern Missouri, either from outpatient services or inpatient homes, Orf said.
Officials noted several students at the university and in surrounding high schools have indicated strong interest in pursuing degrees related to mental healthcare, which bodes well for the program, Orf added. University officials anticipate 10 students to start the program in fall 2021, he said.
The university will partner with the Missouri Behavioral Health Coalition and several southern Missouri behavioral healthcare providers to develop and deliver the degree program. With coalition guidance, university officials hope to identify other partners in southern Missouri where students who complete the program can be placed, Orf said.
Program start-up costs could be covered by a $50,000 appropriation for the campus that was included in Governor Mike Parson’s FY 2022 budget proposal to the Missouri General Assembly. If approved, the funds will allow university officials to hire a program coordinator who will work with local providers for clinical placements and oversee the launch and growth of the program.
For more information about the AAS in Community Behavioral Health Support degree program, contact the academic affairs office at 417-255-7272 or WPAcademics@MissouriState.edu.
More information about all degree programs offered by MSU-WP can be obtained through the admissions office at 417-255-7955 or WPAdmissions@MissouriState.edu.
Information also can be found on the university’s website.