University of Central Missouri: UCM Attains Candidacy for Accreditation by ACEND to Prepare Dietetics and Nutrition Professionals

With a nationwide transition soon to make a master’s degree from an accredited college or university the minimum education requirement to become a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN), the University of Central Missouri is taking an important step to create a new pathway to ensure its students are prepared to meet this new standard. UCM has attained candidacy for accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) for its Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition Future Education Model (FEM).

“This is a new master’s degree model that has the didactic coursework and the supervised experiential learning (SEL) components built in so students are able to sit for the national RDN Exam upon successful completion. A master’s degree will be required by 2024 in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD) and our program addresses this change,” said Paula Brant, program manager in nutrition at UCM.

Meera Penumetcha, Ph.D., associate professor and nutrition program coordinator, said this new degree opportunity is particularly well-suited for Kansas City metropolitan area residents. They will have convenient access to coursework close to home and the required SEL opportunities — similar to internships — at organizations throughout the metro area. In addition, all individuals who are accepted into this program, regardless of where they reside, will receive a $1,000 Regina Meyers McClain Scholarship to help reduce the cost of their education. Individuals who want to become part of the first full cohort this fall should apply by the July 15, 2022 application deadline.

A process that began approximately two years ago, the university underwent an accreditation process that included an application, self-study and site visit by the ACEND accreditation team. In 2021, UCM was notified that the M.S. in Clinical Nutrition Future Education Model was approved for candidacy. With this designation, students who are attending the university and who complete all of the degree requirements will be considered graduates of an accredited program, and they will receive a statement that confirms this achievement. This is necessary for them to sit for the CDR Registration Examination for Registered Dietician Nutritionists.

Penumetcha said the university is transitioning to the master’s degree program as it closes out its Bachelor of Science in Dietetics by May 2023. This undergraduate degree is a longstanding ACEND-accredited program, however, the change in education requirement by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Commission on Dietetic Registration will begin in 2024 requiring a graduate degree as a minimum educational requirement.

The new 46-credit-hour graduate program will help ensure more students are prepared to meet the Academy’s education standard, and it also ensures students from this accredited program are meeting the same high-quality ACEND standards that are met by students involved in the same program at other institutions nationwide.

Penumetcha said the program will extend over the fall, spring, summer, and fall semesters making it possible for students to graduate in approximately 18 months. Those students who earned the bachelor’s degree can easily transition into this program, but that is not a requirement.

“With this model, we can access students from other disciplines. For example, if you are a biology major or kinesiology major,. you may need to have some prerequisites, if you don’t have them, but we offer a nutrition minor,” Penumetcha said.

Students who enroll in the program will complete the didactic component through online coursework. The remaining semesters will combine coursework at UCM with SEL activities, which will take place onsite in clinical, community and management areas.

For those who wish to pursue this degree path, the future is wide open for job opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for registered dietitians and nutritionists will increase by 11 percent from 2018 and 2028. The on-going health crisis with so many people experiencing conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes is increasing, and this makes it essential for more qualified individuals who can help address these issues through proper diet. The Commission on Dietetic Registration reports that as of April 2022, there were 2,080 Registered Dietitians or Registered Dietitian Nutritionists in Missouri.