Dakota Wesleyan University recently received approval from the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE), making DWU one of two universities in South Dakota to offer a Master of Athletic Training degree and the only South Dakota program that finishes in five years.
DWU’s new athletic training master’s degree will take the place of its current Bachelor of Science degree in athletic training – a decision made based on new professional standards requiring professional athletic trainers to be master’s prepared.
This program change is nationwide but not all programs will survive the transition, said DWU’s Dr. Lana Loken and Dr. Dan Wagner. Loken is the clinical education coordinator and a professor of athletic training; and Wagner is the director of athletic training and professor; they co-chair the department, as well.
“Health care is constantly evolving and with it, the requirements in higher education and professional standards,” Wagner said. “What sophomores in athletic training are learning today is material I learned during my master’s program, so the content and rigor of athletic training programs really are on par with a master’s program. The change to DWU’s program will be that students at DWU can finish their courses and prerequisites in three years and apply for the two-year master’s degree.”
This “three-plus-two” program is highly flexible, they explained, and currently the only in the state.
“When going through our accreditation process, it was communicated to us that around 30 percent of programs will potentially offer the three-plus-two path,” Loken said.
Beginning in fall 2017, freshmen will declare as pre-athletic training and be advised by the athletic training faculty on courses and prerequisites that are required to apply for DWU’s athletic training program. This is a common model for medical professions which do not require a four-year bachelor’s degree to apply, only a designated number of course credits and/or clinical credits and prerequisites.
“Athletic training is a medical profession, and to follow suit in training and education, the program is adopting this ‘pre-med’ model, but that’s not to say that students could not still obtain a four-year degree and apply for our Master of Athletic Training program – they certainly can,” Loken said.
In cases where students wish to obtain a bachelor’s degree, wish to fulfill athletic eligibility, and/or transfer from another program, the application process will be the same as it is for those students who declared pre-athletic training as freshmen – the difference is time.
“You can take our program as quickly or as slowly as you want to,” Loken added. “There will be incoming freshmen with enough college credits that they could finish the pre-AT portion in two years and apply for the master’s program and if accepted, finish an M.AT. in four years. There are also students who will take six or seven years because they are student-athletes who red-shirt as freshmen and have four years of eligibility – we will work with all students on the path that works for them.”
For students who do declare as freshmen and choose the five-year track, they will not only graduate one year earlier than their peers, thus entering the work field sooner, but they will also benefit from DWU’s master’s program price tag: two years of DWU’s M.A.T. is less than one year of a bachelor’s.
“Our program is rigorous, it is accredited, we have a track record for testing and placement that we are extremely proud of, and by offering a three-plus-two degree completion program for a master’s, we know we are going to fill a niche in an industry that right now is losing a lot of programs nationwide that do not have the ability to push forward with these standards,” Wagner said.
Each incoming class will be capped at 20; the 2016 freshman class was offered the choice between a bachelor’s degree and the master’s program. Only three students chose the bachelor’s route, and they will be grandfathered into the program. DWU also has partner schools in area community colleges which have strong programs that pair well with DWU’s; the DWU admissions transfer counselor works with these schools to ensure that declared pre-AT students take all the necessary courses so when they graduate, they can finish their third year of prerequisites at DWU and immediately apply for the master’s program, still completing the full program in five years.
Any current or incoming student at DWU can discuss the new program with athletic training faculty at any time, and applications for the DWU MAT degree will open fall 2017; classes will begin summer 2018. Application forms will be made available online closer to date, but for more information about the program, clickhere.