Becoming a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) requires a combination of fieldwork experience, a passing score on a professional exam and a college education that meets certain requirements. Among those requirements are studies at the graduate level and an approved distribution of hours that align with the Behavior Analyst Certification Board’s mandatory content areas. Different schools and programs meet these requirements in different ways, but qualifying institutions develop a structure of courses that meets these coursework requirements for certification.
A Graduate-Level Program of Study
Graduate school is required for certified behavior analysts. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board accepts either a master’s degree or a doctorate to meet the degree requirements for certification. This degree can be awarded in the field of behavior analysis, psychology or education, but it must be from a qualifying institution – one recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
You also will find some behavior analysis programs at the undergraduate and pre-master’s graduate certificate levels. These programs prepare students to become Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBAs), not BCBAs.
Hours and Content Areas Required for Certification
You might wonder how a degree in education or in general psychology can equip students with the specific set of skills they will need to succeed as behavior analysts. In addition to meeting the minimum degree requirement, candidates for board certification must complete the required number of hours in each of six content areas. Under the most recently adopted set of requirements, which will be implemented in 2022, coursework must include:
- 45 hours of study in compliance code and disciplinary systems under the Behavior Analyst Certification Board and in professionalism
- 90 hours of coursework in the philosophical underpinnings, concepts & principles of the science of behavior analysis
- 45 hours of study in data measurement and display, interpretation and experimental design for research
- 45 hours of behavior assessment coursework
- 60 hours of study in selecting and implementing the procedures and interventions used to change behavior
- 30 hours of coursework in personnel management
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Some of the specific requirements for aspiring BCBAs include learning about different perspectives, goals and philosophical assumptions of the field as well as understanding concepts in reinforcement and conditioning. As research requirements go, students should take coursework in designing experiments that meet standards for validity, selecting and implementing appropriate measurement systems and graphing and interpreting quantitative data. When it comes to the application of behavior analysis foundations, students must learn to use a wide variety of behavior-change procedures so that they have many different interventions in their repertoire.
In total, the coursework requirements for new BCBAs adds up to 315 hours, while under the previous set of requirements, it was just 270 hours.
Sample Courses in Graduate Behavior Analysis Programs
Although the Behavior Analyst Certification Board may dictate the content areas schools need to cover, it allows programs the flexibility to develop a curriculum that meets these standards. As a result, different behavior analysis programs include different courses. In one program, students might split their studies in behavior assessment between courses such as Functional Behavioral Assessment and Academic Assessment and Intervention, while other programs might be structured differently. To develop skills in research and data measurement, for example, one approved program might have a class in Behavioral Research and Accountability Methods, while another might cover the subject area through a class in Experimental Analysis of Behavior. A program might meet ethics requirements through a course that expressly focuses on Ethics for Behavioral Practice and Research or incorporate that subject matter into the curriculum of a course like Supervision and Consulting in ABA.
One further factor that can result in differences between individual behavior analysis programs is whether the program culminates in a master’s degree or a doctorate. Although either degree is acceptable for certification, it can take considerably longer to complete a doctorate, which often requires five or more years of full-time study, than to earn a master’s degree, which can take as little as one and a half years.
The format and structure of your program also determine how long it will take to earn your graduate degree. In schools that break the academic year into four quarters, rather than the traditional two-semester format, students may be able to graduate faster.