The first students in two brand-new master’s degree programs in human genetics have now arrived at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI). Their enrollment signals that the academic programs have passed critical milestones, including the most important: approval by the necessary accrediting bodies.
The Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling was the first to gain accreditation. The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), the organization responsible for reviewing California academic programs and institutions, approved this program in early 2018. Accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling followed on Feb. 1—the same day the program’s student admission process closed.
“Our professional accreditation council is entirely made up of volunteers, and they’re moving at incredible speed without sacrificing standards. I appreciate this and believe it’s important and deserved to say that they were amazing to work with during the accreditation process,” says Professor of Practice Ashley Mills, director of KGI’s new genetic counseling program.
It helped that KGI had thoroughly addressed all aspects of the program before submitting the application to the accrediting council.
“They saw that we had a good plan and could clearly map core professional competencies to the curriculum,” explains Mills, noting that KGI had also developed affiliation agreements with genetic counseling practice sites and demonstrated strong institutional support for the program.
The second of the new master’s degree programs housed in KGI’s School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics, has earned accreditation from WASC. This is the only organization whose approval was required because there is no accreditation agency specific to the genomics field.
“Ours is the first program of its kind that we know of. There are a lot of genetics programs, but the clinical genomics aspect is novel,” says Assistant Professor Barbara Fortini, who serves as program coordinator.
“Traditionally, you either studied genetics or computer science, but not both. Our program was designed from the ground up to meet the demands of the growing genomics industry.”
Though the program is unique, Fortini says the accreditation process was straightforward because the two genetics programs have half their coursework in common. With the genetic counseling program already approved by WASC, an expedited review was possible.
“We had to describe the genomics program, our curriculum goals, how we will measure success, and the experiences students will have,” explains Fortini. “A lot was based on the success of KGI. Many of the classes were already in place; we were just adding specialized classes. We were also able to capitalize on KGI’s connections to industry.”
Speaking specifically about the program in genetic counseling, Mills notes, “There’s a great sense of pushing the boundaries while maintaining the traditional and professional, so the program fits within the KGI umbrella. This is a really innovative place with a lot of forward thinking.”
KGI’s conception of the programs clearly appeals to students: Both programs met their first-year enrollment goals. The genetic counseling program welcomed 14 students, while the genomics program has a cohort of eight students.