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USM School Psychology Program Earns Prestigious Credential

Thu, 12/06/2018 - 12:07pm | By: David Tisdale

Graduate students in The University of Southern Mississippi's (USM) School Psychology program can now pursue the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) designation, after the program's coursework met the approval of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB) in fulfilling its criteria for Verified Course Sequence (VCS) status.

The BACB is responsible for the national certification of behavior analysts (i.e., board certified behavior analysts; BCBAs). It creates standards for certification, including specific content to be covered in relevant coursework and standards for supervised practice. Individuals meeting the BACB's coursework and supervision requirements are eligible to sit for the BCBA exam, the final step to earning the credential.

Practicum hours accrued by students as part of their doctoral training in the USM program can also be counted towards the BACB's supervision requirement for the BCBA credential, so when apply to sit for the exam, they will not have to submit course syllabi for evaluation by the BACB.

“The BCBA credential is very marketable, as the skills and training accompanying it are sought after by employers in a variety of professional settings. As a program, we can now officially advertise our VCS status to prospective students,” said Dr. Evan Dart, associate professor and director of training for the USM School Psychology & Applied Behavior Analysis Programs.

“Before becoming a VCS, students completing our program were eligible for two professional certifications, licensure as a psychologist (due to program approval by the American Psychological Association) and credentialing as a nationally certified school psychologist (due to program approval by the National Association of School Psychologists). Now, we have a third professional credential eligibility to offer.”

VCS is a set of courses verified by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) as meeting specific coursework requirements, content hours, and faculty standards. Criteria for achieving VCS status involves documenting 270 clock-hours of instruction aligned with the BACB's most recent task list. The task list details specific content and learning objectives that must be covered in the coursework component of the certification process.  

According to Dr. Dart, meeting the task list's standards involved editing USM course syllabi to ensure all of the items and objects on the task list were covered, and documenting exactly when students received the course content during their time in the program. The BACB is currently on the fourth edition of the task list, but plan to roll out a revised fifth edition in 2022.

“Because the fifth edition task list is already available for review, we also aligned our coursework to the fifth edition task list to ensure our program will remain a VCS for the foreseeable future,” Dr. Dart said.  

The USM School Psychology Program's objective is the preparation of behavioral scientists to use their training to address issues encountered by students related to schooling, including those involving behavior and learning challenges. After four years of coursework and a fifth year of internship, graduates of the program go on to serve in various settings that include hospitals, clinics, developmental centers, school districts and at universities and colleges as faculty members.

Dr. Joe Olmi, director of the USM School of Psychology, praised his colleagues for their work in pursuing the VCS designation. “This will serve as a tremendous marketing tool for attracting stellar applicants to the School Psychology Program who desire the BCBA credential, and the quality training provided by our faculty,” Dr. Olmi said.   

Mary Ware, a Florence, Ala. native and third-year USM School Psychology doctoral student, said earning the BCBA designation is an important professional goal for her.

“Our faculty members have worked very hard to ensure this could be offered to their students,” Ware said. “Although they've always valued the field of behavior analysis and strongly instilled the importance of behavioral principles within school psychology, having a BACB approved course sequence benefits students in various ways, including strengthening our applications when applying for internships, giving us a wider variety of career opportunities, and enhancing our experiences when applying for jobs.”

Learn more about the USM School Psychology program at