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A first for Flagler

Mar 29, 2016
by Bobbie Stewart

For Professor and Deaf Education Coordinator Margaret Finnegan, trends in her field of deaf education were alarming: universities were closing the doors on some of the biggest Deaf Education programs in the country while the number of deaf or hard of hearing students seeking tailored educational opportunities began to rise.

Now after more than a decade of planning by Finnegan, Flagler College is launching a Master of Arts program in Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH), designed to help fill this growing need.

The program is the college’s first-ever master’s level offering.

“This is a landmark event in the history of the college,” said Dr. Alan Woolfolk, vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the Faculty. “The approval of this program signals that Flagler College has developed greatly — that we’re not just healthy, but thriving. We’ve entered a new era.”

The 36-credit, 12-course program will be offered in an online, distance-learning format with a single summer residency requirement. Finnegan has been the leading figure in crafting its curriculum and shepherding the program through a lengthy approval process. This past December, the master’s degree was approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accreditation body for academic degrees of higher education.

The dearth of DHH teachers is not only a national phenomenon, but also a local trend. The 2014-2015 school year alone began with 24 vacancies for teachers of the deaf in the northeast Florida region. The numbers, according to Finnegan, continue to climb. Launching a master’s degree program was an opportunity for Flagler to meet the field’s growing demand and to play a pivotal role in advancing graduate-level education.

“It’s all very exciting for us,” Finnegan said. “It’s been a long time coming. Now that we’ve cleared approval, we’re just trying to get on with the nuts and bolts of the program.”

At the top of her list of priorities is finding a director to steer the helm. This person will solidify program format, determine the mechanics of online instruction and serve as the program’s chief spokesperson.         

Another task particularly significant to the director’s role will be finding and implementing an online platform that can effectively capture visual cues, which are critical to expressing and interpreting sign language.

Though the courses will be delivered online, local students will be invited to join the digital classroom on-campus where the course is being taught.

Wide Range of Prospective Students

The master’s program will appeal to three different kinds of students: current Flagler students interested in attaining a master’s degree within a year of graduating with their bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education; current teachers seeking courses to fulfill re-certification requirements in Deaf Education with endorsements in either Severe or Profound Disabilities or American Sign Language; and current teachers with no prior deaf education background seeking to transition to the field.

Word has been spreading fast, especially through alumni networks. Recent alumna Miranda Slusser, who graduated in December of last year with a bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education and Elementary Education, currently works as a DHH teacher in Manatee County, Florida. As part of her job, she travels to seven different schools and works with 12 students with DHH needs.

“I would really like to get my master’s degree in Deaf Education from Flagler because I believe it will help me grow as a professional and better serve my students,” she said. “Attending Flagler prepared me for my job and the variety of students that I work with. I look at the master’s program as the next step in helping my students be as successful as they can be. It will also keep me up-to-date on current research in the field.”

The program’s philosophy holds that effective teaching in either residential or public school settings requires knowledge of curriculum and instruction in both regular and special education classrooms. To this end, the program will focus on bilingual/bicultural programming, auditory/oral programming and instruction of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, but also experience additional physical and learning disabilities.

For more information, visit: or contact Finnegan at


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