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University of Iowa News Release

Sept. 8, 2003

UI Rehabilitation Counseling Program Nets $750,000 Grant

A 45-year-old farmer slips from a tractor, seriously injuring his back and forcing him to abandon his occupation, as well as the farm that's been in his family for over four generations.

An 18-year-old woman with severe schizophrenia wants to enter the workforce but is uncertain whether and how her condition will affect her chances for long-term employment.

A 32-year-old woman with a learning disability was just released from prison and hopes to regain custody of her two children, but she needs help figuring out how she's going to support her family as a single mother.

Vocational rehabilitation counselors are specially trained to help people with such emotional, physical, psychological and cognitive disabilities find independence through gainful employment, providing counseling, training, job placement and assistive technology. Unfortunately, the number of people qualified to provide these services is dwindling.

A 1999 survey of 50 state-federal agencies found that nearly half -- 42 percent -- of currently employed rehabilitation counselors failed to meet the Comprehensive System of Personnel Development (CSPD) requirements, an important professional qualification. And the attrition rate within the profession is 25 percent within any five-year period, which means that by 2004 there will be a need for nearly 3,000 rehab counselors nationwide.

The University of Iowa College of Education's Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development hopes to reverse those trends with the help of a recent federal grant. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the department a five-year, $750,000 grant to help with the hiring and retention of rehabilitation counselors in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

Much of the money will be used to cover the cost of in-state tuition and provide stipends each year of the grant for up to 15 students in the UI's rehabilitation counseling master's program. In exchange for that support, the students must agree to spend several years (depending on the number of semesters for which they receive support) working for a state vocational rehabilitation agency after graduation. The students, who are just being selected this fall, are especially encouraged to work with people with severe disabilities.

Under the grant, the department will also provide support to rehabilitation counselors already in the field through workshops, summer schools, videotaped programs and a website.

The UI Department of Counseling, Rehabilitation and Student Development already offers similar support and outreach to its Ph.D. students under a five-year, $500,000 grant, which is now in its third year.

All told, the rehabilitation counseling program has 28 master's students and 16 Ph.D. students.

Vilia Tarvydas, Ph.D., primary author of the grant and program coordinator of the College of Education's graduate programs in rehabilitation, said the goal of the project is to increase the supply of qualified personnel available to state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies in the region through outreach, recruitment, value-added education and enhanced experiential learning strategies.

She said the grant will use an innovative E-Mentoring program to match program students with mentors working around the state in either the general or blind state vocational rehabilitation program, or an independent living program, and involve the students in a yearly regional conference with students from other states in the region. Through experiences with their E-Mentors and contacts at the regional conference, students will gain from getting to know good role models for their future careers and be provided with the most current information about good practices in the field.

"The project's focus on preparing rehabilitation counselors for employment in the public VR system will increase the number of qualified personnel to meet the severe shortage of VR staff projected in the future," Tarvydas said. "We are hoping to attract new people who are concerned with increasing the quality of life for people with disabilities through rehabilitation services and want to contribute their energies to this meaningful work. We especially encourage people with disabilities and other traditionally underrepresented groups -- all people who value diversity -- to enter the profession of rehabilitation counseling with this additional opportunity to receive support for studying in this very rewarding and in-demand profession.

"Additionally," Tarvydas added, "the project will maintain and upgrade the skills and knowledge of employed personnel through workshops, material development, and dissemination, and generation of evidence based practice through applied research."

The UI's Rehabilitation Counseling Program has a long history of effectively serving Iowa, the Iowa Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services and the surrounding region, having been established in 1956 and accredited by the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) since 1975. Since 1990 it has educated more than 152 rehabilitation counselors, who work around the United States in diverse disability-related settings, as well as in the public vocational rehabilitation system in Iowa and neighboring states, including Kansas, Illinois, Colorado and Wisconsin.

The program has received multiple distinctions, including the American Rehabilitation Counseling Association's 1997 President's Award for an Exemplary Rehabilitation Education Program. Additionally, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UI rehabilitation counseling master's program sixth in 1998, third in 2000 and third again in 2003 -- the most recent year in which the magazine ranked such programs for its America's Best Graduate Schools guide.

For more information about the program, visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephen Pradarelli, 319-384-0007,