In the Public Interest

Without recognition or fanfare, psychology recently experienced the passing of an era. The National Institute of Mental Health announced in 2007 that it would halt funding to APA’s Minority Fellowship Program in Mental Health Research in 2008 and its Diversity Program in Neuroscience in 2010.

NIMH funding for the Minority Fellowship Program Psychological Science Research Training Grant had been $875,000 for 30 predoctoral fellows in 2005–06 and nearly $1 million for the Diversity Program, which had funded 30 predoctoral and six postdoctoral fellows each year.

Over the last 35 years, the APA Minority Fellowship Program has provided stipends and other training for more than 900 doctoral-level researchers, service providers and administrators. By any standards, these two programs have been extremely successful. Data show that 74 percent and 79 percent of Minority Fellowship Program and Diversity Program fellows, respectively, graduated as compared with a 65 percent completion rate for psychology PhD students.1 Graduates from both MFP programs have published widely, received numerous NIH grants, and had a major influence on research and training. They have become leaders throughout APA governance, federal agencies, and research and policy institutes.

Why, then, did NIMH eliminate these programs? When the agency found it necessary to trim its training budget, it formed a NIMH National Advisory Mental Health Council Workgroup on Research Training to, among other things, determine which programs had been most likely to yield NIMH-supported scientists. According to that 2008 report, graduates funded by diversity-focused T32 programs in 1999 did not compete for NIH and NIMH grants as effectively as those who were supported by other T32 and individual training grants (see Investing in the Future). The research referenced in the NIMH report focused on only one cohort of trainees across the five professions’ Minority Fellowship Programs. APA’s Minority Fellowship Program has produced strong evaluation data documenting its effectiveness, using multiple indices for nearly 30 cohorts.

Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to stop the elimination of funds to the Minority Fellowship Program. This is a terrible loss not only for ethnic-minority students, but for the entire field of psychology.

But the news isn’t all bleak. Funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for mental health and substance abuse services Minority Fellowship Program stipends will continue. APA is also exploring ways that the program could go forward with a broader mission — one not primarily stipend-based — and build upon the full range of enrichment and professional development programs that the Minority Fellowship Program offers. Two examples of such efforts are APA’s Psychology Summer Institute and Summer Program in Neuroscience, Ethics and Survival. Although not previously a separate program, the Minority Fellowship Program plans to build upon its mentoring focus. Plans are also moving forward to establish an American Psychological Foundation fund that could help support the programs.

Once the fund is established, I encourage you to show your support. We also welcome your suggestions on additional ways to expand and fund different aspects of the Minority Fellowship Program. Staff are also trying to rename the program in keeping with its broader focus and expanded mission.

While the challenges ahead for the Minority Fellowship Program may seem daunting, APA also has an opportunity to expand and improve its main vehicle for supporting ethnic-minorities pursuing careers in psychology and neuroscience. E-mail your ideas.

1. Graduation rate at 10 years. Council of Graduate Schools (2007). “PhD Completion and Attrition: Analysis of Baseline Program Data from the PhD Completion Project.”