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Buffalo State’s New Master’s Degree in Applied Behavior Analysis to Fill Gaping Need


Beginning this summer, Buffalo State College’s Exceptional Education Department will accept students into a newly approved master’s degree program that will teach them to work in a rapidly growing profession—applied behavior analysis (ABA).

The two-year, six-semester M.S. program prepares students to work as independent practitioners with individuals who have autism and other behavioral health conditions. The program is designed for students who have undergraduate degrees in psychology, education, special education, or a related field that addresses learning and behavioral problems.

Upon receiving the degree, graduates must pass a state and national exam for licensure, which will enable them to practice as licensed therapists in ABA, one of the fastest-growing occupations in the country. ABA specialists are hired by school districts, hospitals, and other organizations.

“New York State has the lowest number of behavioral analysts per 100 individuals with autism in the Northeast.”

- Kathy Doody, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Exceptional Education

The demand for board-certified ABAs increased by almost 2,000 percent between 2010 and 2018, according to a study from Burning Glass Technologies. The average salary for a certified ABA is close to $70,000 a year, with top earners reporting annual salaries of more than $100,000.

Buffalo State’s new master’s program comes at a time when the number of certified behavioral specialists aren’t keeping up with demand.

“There is such a shortage of ABA professionals in New York,” said Kathy Doody, associate professor and associate chair of graduate programs in exceptional education. “New York State has the lowest number of behavioral analysts per 100 individuals with autism in the Northeast.”

Locally, the situation is even more dire. Of the roughly 1,500 licensed behavior analysts in New York, most are downstate; only 32 reside in Erie County.   

While two higher education institutions in Western New York and one in Rochester currently offer an advanced certificate or degree in ABA, Buffalo State’s program will be unique. It has been designed as a partnership with the Summit Center, which provides services to children and adults with autism and other developmental, social, and behavioral challenges.

Many courses will be taught at Summit, and students will complete all their fieldwork under the guidance of Summit staff members who are experts in ABA, Doody said.

Also, the Exceptional Education Department is in the process of hiring a director who specializes in ABA.

“There is a huge need for this training. This will expand students’ opportunities and help the children with such a need for this type of intervention.”

- Sharon Raimondi, Ph.D., Professor, Exceptional Education

When students graduate from the master’s program and become board certified, they will be qualified to work with children and adults not only with autism but also with any behavioral health condition listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is a recent change thanks to legislation signed by New York Governor Kathy Hochul at the end of 2021. Previously, New York ABA specialists could work only with individuals on the autism spectrum.

“This will make the issuing of the behavior analyst licenses consistent with other states,” Doody said.

Sharon Raimondi, professor of exceptional education, drafted the program application and worked tirelessly with the state for more than a year until the program was approved in 2021. Throughout her career, Raimondi has worked with the Buffalo Public Schools on several initiatives designed to improve the outcomes of students with disabilities.

“There is a huge need for this training,” Raimondi said. “Students in our exceptional education program work with kids with behavioral needs, but they are not licensed in ABA. This will expand their opportunities and help the children with such a need for this type of intervention.”

A grant from The Children’s Guild Foundation, a Buffalo-based philanthropic foundation that seeks to improve the lives of children with special needs through its grant funding and advocacy work, is providing a $211,385 grant to underwrite five fellowships for students enrolled in the program, beginning this summer. Because of the extreme regional need for this specialization, students who receive the fellowships must agree to work in one of the eight counties within Western New York for at least three years after graduating from the program.

“We know that most school districts in our region do not have anyone trained in this discipline,” Doody said. “More children with disabilities are educated in an inclusive setting, which is what we want. But when you have kids with severe behavioral issues, it often falls upon the classroom teacher to handle them. We know the success rate is higher for students in a general education setting. With more behavioral specialists, both the students and the teachers will get the support they need.”