Solution: Increase the Number of Internship Slots
With 804 applicants left without positions after the 2011 match, finding ways to add more slots seems like a no-brainer. The Council of Chairs of Training Councils (CCTC), its member councils and the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internships Centers (APPIC) are among the organizations working to make this happen.
ConsThe sheer size of the problem makes this a partial solution, at best. "The number of sites would have to be increased by 1,000 to get an internship for everybody," says Mike C. Parent, a University of Florida graduate student who has researched the internship imbalance problem. Another is the fact that there's no guarantee that schools with low internship match rates won't just continue to increase their admissions rates, perpetuating the problem. And creating new internship sites is also difficult, especially in this economic climate, says Catherine Grus, PhD, of APA's Education Directorate. According to Grus, many sites have scaled back or even discontinued their internship programs because they can longer afford them. That's true no matter where sites' funding comes from, adds APPIC Chair Eugene D'Angelo, PhD. Federal, state and municipal programs depend on line items in already-strained budgets to cover the costs of training, for instance, while university counseling centers may rely on support from similarly struggling academic institutions.
Solution: Force Doctoral Programs With Low Match Rates to Reduce Their Size
Attacking the demand side of the equation is another common proposal. In a 2009 paper in Training and Education in Professional Psychology, for example, James M. Stedman, PhD, of the University of Texas Health Science Center and colleagues called for APA to force graduate programs with low match rates to reduce their class sizes until their match rates are acceptable.
ConsWhile Stedman and his colleagues argue that legal concerns are unfounded, others believe that antitrust laws restrict APA and other organizations from directly regulating the number of graduate psychology admissions. "We can't regulate programs by telling them they can't accept students," says CCTC Chair Steve McCutcheon, PhD. "But we as a profession do have the ability to expect that programs provide training that's of sufficient quality so that students can fulfill their training requirements, move on to licensure and provide safe services to the public." That's why members of CCTC keep an eye on programs with low match rates and work with training directors to improve them, he says.
Solution: Take Away Accreditation for Low-matching Schools
Some have called for limiting APA accreditation to doctoral programs with an acceptable match rate — 80 percent or 90 percent, for example — which could then spur schools to tighten admission standards. In a 2007 article in Training and Education in Professional Psychology, for instance, Marie Miville, PhD, of Teachers College, Columbia University, called for restricting accreditation of counseling psychology programs to those with a 90 percent match rate.
ConsWhile Parent advocates an 80 percent cutoff, he admits such cutoffs could potentially harm small programs that take only a few students per year. Say a program takes only four students, and one doesn't match because of geographical limitations, resulting in a 75 percent match rate, he points out. APA's Commission on Accreditation could give special consideration to programs in such situations, he suggests.
Solution: Require ‘Truth in Advertising' From Graduate Programs
On the theory that well-informed students may avoid programs with low match rates, APA's Commission on Accreditation began in 2010 to require doctoral programs to start publishing data on the number and percentage of students obtaining internships over the last seven years.
ConsPrograms may not report data accurately. Not-yet-published research by Parent reveals that there's often a mismatch between the data APPIC reports and what schools publish on their websites. Additionally, students may not understand what match percentages mean, or they may just think they will buck a school's bad trend. Students currently flock to schools with 60 percent or lower match rates, Parent points out.
Solution: Abolish Internships
"One of the most interesting proposals that's drumming up a lot of attention is the idea that we should just abolish internships entirely," says Parent, adding that in psychology's early days, internship was typically the first time students actually saw patients. "Now people begin their internships with more clinical experience than people used to have when they finished their internships."
Eliminating the internship requirement — or moving the internship year to after students earn their doctoral degrees rather than before — could lead to several unintended consequences, says McCutcheon. These include reducing doctoral programs' accountability for student learning outcomes and decreasing the quality of students' preparation for practice, he says.
Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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