News from the Commission on Accreditation

Recognition 

The APA Commission on Accreditation (CoA) is currently recognized by both federal and nongovernmental agencies to accredit doctoral, doctoral internship and postdoctoral residency programs in professional psychology.

In February, CoA received notice of continued recognition by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) for a term of 10 years. CHEA’s Committee on Recognition is a nongovernmental recognition body of accrediting agencies.

In July, CoA received notice from the secretary of the Department of Education of approval for continued recognition on the basis of independent recommendations from both department staff and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI). At the June NACIQI meeting, CoA was one of only a few accrediting agencies scheduled for review that was granted placement on its consent agenda. CoA is scheduled to return for review by the department and NACIQI in 2016.

Coming soon: Standards of Accreditation

The current Guidelines and Principles for Accreditation (G&P) were initially adopted in 1995 and implemented in 1996. Much has changed since then in higher education, education and training in professional psychology, and the health and mental health infrastructure in the United States. In recognition of changes both internal and external to psychology, CoA embarked on a multiyear process to revise its standards for accreditation. During late 2012 and early 2013, CoA met with constituency groups, hosted virtual townhall meetings and conducted two rounds of public comment on conceptual questions to inform the drafting of new standards for accreditation.

At the end of its July meeting, CoA completed draft “skeletons,” or detailed outlines, for each level of accreditation (doctoral, internship and postdoctoral residency). The content of these outlines was released to the public during the CoA Open Forum at the 2013 APA convention in Honolulu on Aug. 2, 2013. In preparing to move forward with drafting the new accreditation standards, CoA made a number of key decisions related to the sequence of training, competencies and diversity.

During fall 2013, CoA continued its work to draft the content of the Standards of Accreditation for Health Service Psychology, which will be open for six months of public comment by early January 2014. The new standards will not change the scope of accreditation for doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, school, developed practice areas and combinations of these areas or at the internship and postdoctoral residency levels. Depending on the input received from its constituencies, CoA will vote either to move forward with the draft standards or to prepare revisions for another round of public comment.

Please visit the Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation website for the latest information on the G&P revision process.

New accreditation statuses for internship and postdoctoral residency programs

In May 2013, CoA accepted its first applications for “eligible” status and the accredited status of “accredited, on contingency” from programs seeking initial accreditation. The former status provides an entry to accreditation for programs that have not yet matriculated interns or residents but have the required physical and administrative resources for enrolling the first cohort. Eligible status is not an accredited status and involves only a paper review (i.e., no site visit) resulting in notice to the public that the program intends to seek an accredited status in the near future. The status of “accredited, on contingency” allows a program that has enrolled its first cohort to apply for an accredited status prior to obtaining outcome data required by Domain F1(a) of the G&P. Programs accredited as “accredited, on contingency” must submit outcome data for review by CoA within two years for full-time internships and four years for full-time residency programs that are more than one year in duration in order to attain the status of “accredited.” A primary goal of the new statuses is to enable accreditation- ready and new programs an alternative and stepwise path to full accreditation.

Enhanced disclosure of accreditation decisions

Starting in 2014, CoA will publish a summary in the online program listings and the Notice of Actions for each accreditation decision that includes information on the general guideline serving as the basis for the decision.

Site Visitor Corps

As of Sept. 2, CoA accredits 946 doctoral, internship and postdoctoral residency programs (an increase of 3 percent over 2012), making the commission one of the largest specialized accrediting bodies in the United States. Each year, CoA performs more than 200 periodic and initial reviews for accreditation that include both internal (self-study) and external (site visit) components. Successful completion of the site visit would be impossible without the work performed by CoA’s cadre of site visitors, who are matched to visit programs based on their current work setting, education and training background, and professional experience, among other considerations. Volunteer site visitors are critical to a peer review process that strives to ensure quality assurance in psychology education and training. To this end, specialized accreditors such as CoA are gatekeepers to the profession and use the judgment and observations from experts in the discipline.

Such is not the case in other nations where a government ministry establishes educational standards that may or may not be promulgated by those best situated to know what is appropriate to that field. In recent years, federal oversight in higher education has been partially furthered through the accreditation process. Yet by maintaining a robust cadre of site visitors, CoA can continue to demonstrate effectively a sound peer review process that guarantees quality and counters calls for greater governmental control. As volunteers, site visitors may participate to the extent they wish, as there is no minimum number of expected annual visits, nor are there requirements to perform specific visits.