By TYLER ELLYSON

UNK Communications

KEARNEY, Neb. -- The University of Nebraska at Kearney is offering two new accelerated graduate programs, allowing students to complete their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in just five years.

Launching this fall, the 4+1 programs in exercise science and athletic training will save students time and money while maintaining the same academic standards UNK is known for.

“We’re always looking for more affordable, convenient ways that we can provide a high-quality education for our students,” said Kate Heelan, a professor and chair in the UNK Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences. “The 4+1 accelerated graduate programs fit that mission. By allowing students to take courses that count toward both their undergraduate and graduate degrees, we can lower costs and increase the value of this additional training.”

The accelerated programs eliminate redundancies within the undergraduate and graduate degrees, leaving the core curriculum unchanged.

Nearly 200 undergraduate students are currently studying exercise science at UNK, with 66 of them focusing on athletic training.

Heelan believes the accelerated graduate program is a great option for exercise science students who want to gain more experience and enhance their skills before entering the workforce or professional school.

“Some students aren’t quite sure what they want to do after graduation, and a master’s degree helps them see where their interests lie before taking that next step,” she said. “A master’s degree also makes you more marketable to future employers.”

A 30-credit hour program offered on campus, the exercise science master’s degree prepares students for careers in areas such as health and fitness, corporate wellness, strength and conditioning, personal training, rehabilitation coaching and injury prevention. Thesis and internship options are available.

UNK’s exercise science program utilizes the state-of-the-art Physical Activity and Wellness Lab on campus, a hands-on learning space that combines research, teaching and community outreach.

A master’s degree is a requirement for anyone who wants to work as a certified athletic trainer.

Launched in the 1960s, UNK has one of the longest-running sports medicine programs in the state. The university offers a Master of Athletic Training graduate professional program, as well as an athletic training minor for undergraduates.

Accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education, the 45-credit hour master’s program is offered on campus, where students hone their skills in the newly renovated athletic training lab before advancing to clinical sites throughout the region. Graduates of the UNK athletic training program work for high schools, colleges and universities, sports teams and hospitals and clinics across the state and country.

In addition to the new 4+1 option, UNK also offers a 3+2 pathway program that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree and Master of Athletic Training in five years. The accelerated option enables students to complete the 3+2 program more efficiently, with nine credit hours counting toward both the bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

“Because of its national accreditation, the graduate athletic training program requires more credit hours than the other graduate programs. This accelerated program and our 3+2 athletic training pathway program will allow students to save up to 12 credit hours while they experience quality patient care practice in hands-on clinical settings at an earlier academic sequence,” said Kazuma Akehi, an associate professor and director of the athletic training program. “Many graduate athletic training students also seek physical therapy, physician assistant, sports nutritionist or other professional degrees. These accelerated programs allow the students to pursue dual professional credentials more easily.”

Along with the accelerated options, UNK’s athletic training and exercise science master’s programs will continue to be available in a traditional, two-year format.