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TCNJ receives $4.25 million in grants to launch new online mental health counseling program, lower education costs for future professionals

Amid a shortage of mental health professionals nationwide, The College of New Jersey has launched a new online Master of Arts in clinical mental health counseling program to bolster diversity within the workforce. This new offering is funded by a $3 million grant from The Tepper Foundation and a $1.25 million grant from Accelerate the Future.

The program, which is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, will intentionally recruit and train paraprofessionals working in mental health, particularly those from historically underrepresented populations working in New Jersey counties that have been designated mental health professional shortage areas.

“The primary mission of this program is to provide a high-quality education grounded in the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion to those working in mental health agencies in New Jersey,” said Sandy Gibson, program coordinator and professor of online counselor education at TCNJ. “We believe we can provide a national model for institutions to deliver counselor preparation in an accessible, affordable, exceptional, and flexible manner.”

“To address the mental health epidemic, it is crucial to invest in a strong and equipped mental healthcare workforce,” said Randi Tepper, CEO of The Tepper Foundation. “Many paraprofessionals in our mental health system want to further their education, and reducing the cost of degree attainment will be essential to more individuals reaching that milestone. At The Tepper Foundation, we collaborate with organizations who are working on the frontlines of this issue to meet this growing need. We are excited to support TCNJ’s new program that will expand and diversify the mental healthcare system in New Jersey and nationwide.”

“Accelerate the Future is proud to be supporting TCNJ’s work to make mental health counseling degrees more efficient, affordable, and accessible to hard working paraprofessionals in the behavioral health field,” said Ross Lohr, managing director of Accelerate The Future. “We’re not going to address critical shortages of mental health clinicians without some really innovative new programs, and Sandy Gibson is a perfect example of someone willing to push the boundaries of what’s possible to fix a broken system of mental healthcare in this country.” 

There are two tracks available for the program:

  • Generalist practice track: This option offers students customizable electives that provide broad clinical experiences.
  • Addiction counseling track: This track prepares students to work across the addiction treatment spectrum and provides a strong foundation in harm reduction strategies.

TCNJ is partnering with several community agencies to collectively support paraprofessional staff to secure their degree, while also working full-time. Through some agencies, this involves tuition support, while others will allow course attendance during work time. This partnership can help build the workforce pipeline for behavioral health, and areas facing substantive workforce shortages.

“The unique structure of our academic calendar allows students to attend the program full-time, never taking more than two courses at a time, and completing their MA in counseling in only two years,” Gibson said. “No longer will this degree feel out of reach for working paraprofessionals.”

The program consists of three 15-week terms a year, each of which is divided into two carefully curated seven-week sessions. The practicum/field experience will span a full term, and the internship will span two terms.

Students will use cutting-edge technology to enhance the learning experience and gain essential skills for future counseling practices through interactive virtual classrooms, practical skills labs integrated into every course, multimedia resources, and real-time collaboration tools.

For all students, tuition for the program will be discounted from TCNJ’s standard rate. Paraprofessionals working in HPSA communities and HBCU graduates are eligible for additional reductions in cost.

For more information, please visit the program’s website.


 

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