Academic Research - Behavior Analysis Emphasis

The Behavior Analysis emphasis at Cal Poly Humboldt first began in the mid 2000’s in the Psychology Department with Dr. Mary Gruber. Humboldt’s Behavior Analysis emphasis coursework is taught by instructors across the school psychology program, special education, and psychology, which uniquely allows students from all three professions to take the coursework together and provides opportunities for interdisciplinary connections. Behavior Analysts collaborating with a variety of professionals outside of the field is not uncommon, and the Behavior Analysis emphasis facilitates contact with other professions to help prepare students for effective collaboration and consultation. 

The current curriculum consists of a 41-credit course sequence which includes coursework, fieldwork, and a culminating research project. The Psychology Department has established relationships with a number of ABA agencies in the surrounding area of Arcata and Eureka, allowing graduate students to accrue clinical experiences and obtain supervision under a BCBA employed by the agency. The Behavior Analysis emphasis produces graduates with a Master of Arts degree in Psychology and also prepares them for certification as a BCBA. The emphasis can also prepare students to apply to doctoral programs in Behavior Analysis for those who wish to focus on teaching and/or research instead of service delivery.

While we offer some online class options for prerequisites and electives, we are an in-person program.

The Science and Profession of Behavior Analysis

Behavior Analysis is a natural science approach whose subject matter is individual behavior dynamically interacting with the physical and social environment (Association for Professional Behavior Analysts, 2019). Research in both the basic and applied arm of the science has enjoyed strong empirical support since the 1960’s, and over the decades, has resulted in a variety of clinically-validated intervention techniques. Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is the application of the basic principles of behavior and learning to socially important problems a client is experiencing.

For more general information about Behavior Analysis, check out the flagship organization of the field, The Association for Behavior Analysis International:

California also has its own regional association and annual conference, held every February/March, named CalABA:

Demand for ABA and Job Prospects

As many states began passing insurance reform laws over the past decade that requires insurance companies to cover ABA services, the need for professional behavior analysts has skyrocketed. According to the Behavior Analysis Certification Board, the number of board certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) in 2009 was just over 5,500. Ten years later, the number of BCBAs is just about 35,000. Given the large sudden demand for ABA as more families continue to be able to access ABA services through insurance providers, this accelerated growth curve of professionals in the field is just the tip of the iceberg as the profession continues to train the next wave of behavior analysts.

According to the Behavior Analysis Certification Board (2019), Recent demand (April 2018 to March 2019) is highest in 5 states (ordered from most to least): California, Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, and Arizona. These 5 states account for 53% of the recent demand for behavior analysts, with California alone accounting for 31% of the recent demand. Follow this link for more information about demand for behavior analysts:

The median salary of a behavior analyst, according to, is $61,000. This figure largely depends on experience, location, and job function (e.g., associate clinician, clinical supervisor, clinical director).

What is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst?

Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA’s) have advanced training in conducted behavioral assessments which include clinical interviews and direct behavioral observations, conceptualizing a client’s case in terms of behavioral principles, writing assessment reports, developing intervention strategies, training staff (e.g., behavior technicians employed by an ABA agency), teachers, parents, and other individuals involved in the client’s care in the implementation of those intervention strategies, and graphing and analyzing behavioral data over time to monitor client progress in an objective way. Behavior Analysts provide services in the home, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and the community (basically, behavior analysts work wherever the challenging behaviors are occurring that interfere with the client’s quality of life).

Follow this link to learn more about what behavior analysts do and who they work with:

What Kind of Credential is Needed to Become a Behavior Analyst?


Master’s Degree Level: The Board Certified Behavior Analyst. The Board Certified Behavior Analyst® (BCBA®) is a graduate-level certification in behavior analysis. Professionals who are certified at the BCBA level are independent practitioners who provide behavior-analytic services. In addition, BCBAs supervise the work of Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts, Registered Behavior Technicians, and others who implement behavior-analytic interventions.

The Behavior Analysis Emphasis area of graduate study in Humboldt’s psychology department is intended to produce master’s level practitioners to become BCBAs. Follow this link to learn more about the types of professional credentials in behavior analysis:

How Can I Become Certified as a BCBA?

You need to:

  1. Have a master’s degree in behavior analysis, psychology, school psychology, education, or special education.
  2. Pass graduate-level behavior analytic coursework that meets the content hour requirements of the BACB.
  3. Accrue 2,000 hours of clinical experience under the supervision of a BCBA.

Once you have completed the necessary coursework, obtained a Master’s degree, and gained the minimum number of supervised clinical experience hours, you are eligible to sit for the certification exam. Upon passing the exam, the certification board will mail you your certification document.  For more information, see the PDF icon BCBA Eligibility Requirements

What is the Difference Between a Behavior Analyst and a School Psychologist?

School psychologists specialize in working in special education environments. They provide psychological assessments to at-risk students to determine if they qualify for additional supports in the school system, such as an individualized education plan (IEP), and if needed, behavior management plans. School psychologists regularly collaborate with Behavior Analysts to help address the needs of students with more significant behavioral concerns, as Behavior Analysts conduct a full functional behavior assessment and implement behavior-analytic interventions based on that assessment. Behavior Analysts can be employed as internal or external consultants in school systems, but can also work in other settings (e.g., hospitals, in-home), and with various populations (e.g., intellectual disabilities, traumatic brain injury, workers in an organization, substance abuse, and older adults with neurocognitive disorder).

Admission to Humboldt’s Behavior Analysis Emphasis

A minimum GPA of 3.25 in psychology coursework is required. All applicants must submit a 500-750 word statement of purpose addressing their background, research interests in psychology, preparation, career goals, and how they relate to the interested area of study. Two letters of recommendation are also required. Pre-requisite coursework to be completed prior to admission include: PSYC 104 (Intro to Psychology); PSYC 109 (Statistics); PSYC 342 (Research Methods), PSYC 322 (Learning & Motivation), and PSYC 320 (Behavior Analysis).

Helpful Links to Learn More about Behavior Analysis

How to contact us:

Christopher Walmsley:

Faculty Page:

Kevin Colando: