Education Leadership Conference

What percentage of undergraduates attend the nation's 1,800 community colleges?

The answer might surprise you, said Martha M. Ellis, PhD, associate vice chancellor for community college partnerships at the University of Texas System. The answer is 48 percent, she told participants at APA's 2009 Education Leadership Conference. "If you look at just freshmen and sophomores, you get up to 75 percent." The numbers are even higher for minority students.

Community colleges play an especially important role in educating allied health professionals, such as radiology, sonogram technology, pharmacy technology, nursing and mental health technology. According to Ellis, 63 percent of the allied health work force is trained at community colleges. Psychologists play a key role in providing that education, she emphasized. Community colleges always offer psychology courses and most majors require students to take psychology as part of the general education core curriculum, said Ellis. In fact, she said, psychology is the second most popular major for community college students who plan to transfer to universities. Psychology can be an "anchoring course" that promotes such crucial skills as the nature of science, critical thinking and psychological literacy, she added.

But do would-be allied health professionals need an introductory psychology class that's geared just for them? Or can one introductory course meet the needs of all students, whether their major is health, information technology or welding? Many students only take one psychology course during their academic career, so what should be the content of the course?

"That's the dilemma we all face, at universities as well as community colleges—how to provide the curriculum, examples and community engagement appropriate for the diversity of students in our classrooms."

A specialized course for allied health science majors, most conference participants said, would give these students information that addresses their particular needs and allow them to focus on the field's scientific foundation and applied aspects. Others argued that all students need a thorough grounding in psychology's basics, something that's already hard enough to cover in a survey course. A general introductory class would expose students to the perspectives of peers who don't plan to enter the health professions—the very people they will eventually serve. It would also ensure a general knowledge of psychological science for students who end up changing majors.

Of course, it's not just psychology faculty who are teaching psychology, Ellis added. Other curricula, such as nursing, may also cover psychological content. That can cause problems, said Ellis, describing a recent case in which nursing students complained that their psychiatric nursing unit contradicted what they had learned in their introductory psychology courses.

"When I looked at their course materials, I was shocked by how dated they were," said Ellis. "What should I have done?"

Avoid "finger-pointing," conference participants emphasized. Instead, urge administrators to launch an institution-wide review of curricula. Another solution is to bring psychologists into other courses to cover psychological content—while inviting faculty from other disciplines to visit psychology courses when appropriate. Psychology faculty can also serve on curriculum advisory committees for allied health programs to provide guidance on psychology content updates within the disciplines.

Rebecca A. Clay is a writer in Washington, D.C.

Education Leadership Conference

From October 3-6, psychologists representing various aspects of psychology education gathered in Washington, D.C., for the eighth annual Education Leadership Conference, sponsored by APA's Education Directorate and Board of Educational Affairs. With the theme of "Preparing Tomorrow's Health Workforce," participants discussed interprofessionalism, the role of community colleges and academic health centers in psychology education and training, and visited Capitol Hill to talk with lawmakers about psychology-friendly legislation.