TIFTON, Ga. — Alleviating a shortage of mental health providers in rural areas will be one of the goals of a new articulation agreement between Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) and Valdosta State University (VSU).

Dean Matthew Anderson of the ABAC School of Arts and Sciences said the agreement guarantees qualified ABAC graduates with a bachelor’s degree in Rural Community Development an interview and consideration for acceptance into VSU’s Marriage and Family Therapy master’s degree program.

“There is a shortage of mental health providers in rural areas, and it is hoped that the new collaboration might contribute to addressing this need,” Anderson said. “We are thrilled to be collaborating with our colleagues at Valdosta State on this new agreement, which will help our students who aspire to be marriage and family therapists achieve their goals.

“We hope that by keeping ABAC students in the region for their graduate degree, we may increase the likelihood that they remain in the area and help build our local communities.”

Heather M. Kelley, interim department head and associate professor in the Department of Human Services at VSU, said the graduate degree strengthens the foundation of the ABAC bachelor’s degree in Rural Community Development.

“A graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy provides training that no other mental health field offers,” Kelley said.  “It is direct, face-to-face training with real people who have real, often painful problems.”

Jennifer Lambert-Shute, VSU professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, adds, “The skills and training students receive while earning a Bachelor’s degree in Rural Community Development is a complement to the education and training they receive in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at VSU. The degree from ABAC is an interdisciplinary degree that equips students to work within the health, social, political, economic, and culturally diverse aspects of rural communities.”

Martha Laughlin, VSU program director of Marriage and Family Therapy, said graduates should find a welcoming job market.

“The combination of a BA in Rural Community Development and a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy readies graduates for employment in private practice, public and private mental health businesses, mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, medical offices, clinics, geriatrics, police departments, the court system, the military, the Veterans Administration, military overseas opportunities, correctional facilities, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), home-based therapy, and more,” Laughlin said.  “The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of Marriage and Family therapists will grow 22 per cent through 2028.”

Martinez Franco, ABAC’s department chair of Rural Studies, said collaboration among institutions is essential in the current fast-changing job market.

“We are preparing students to solve problems and create positive social, economic, political, and cultural impacts in rural areas,” Franco said.  “With this agreement, more students will be committed to our rural communities."

For more information on the articulation agreement, interested persons can contact Anderson at matthew.anderson@abac.edu or Kelley at hkelley@valdosta.edu.

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