In Brief

Gov. Gray Davis (D­Calif.) has signed a bill into law (AB 400) that not only ends the proliferation of regionally unaccredited schools of psychology in California, but requires remaining schools to inform prospective students of the professional restrictions they may face if they graduate from an unaccredited school. These restrictions include the inability to serve on managed-care panels, become members of medical staffs in hospitals, work in many federal or state agencies, or be licensed outside the state of California.

Starting Jan. 1, failure to disclose this information could lead to stiff penalties for schools that don't comply.

The passage of AB 400 also moves California a step closer to entering reciprocal licensing agreements with other states, since California's licensure law is not in accordance with the Association of State Provincial Psychology Boards Model Act. The act only permits graduates of regionally accredited schools to qualify for licensure.

The issue of regionally accredited versus unaccredited schools has been a hot topic in the state. According to Bill Safarjan, PhD, chair of the California Psychological Association's (CPA) Graduate Education Task Force, some psychologists assert that the educational standards of a number of unaccredited schools fluctuate too widely. Some students do not receive an adequate education, giving California the stigma of a diploma mill, and graduates may suffer from professional discrimination.

In defense of unaccredited schools, their administrators claim they can recruit more minorities, offer lower tuition and provide a broader range of programs than regionally accredited schools. They fear that pointing out the disadvantages of unaccredited schools will give the public the impression that unaccredited graduates receive poor training, a misperception that could hinder a psychologist's ability to practice and shrink the number of students attracted to those programs.

In the end, CPA, along with Ted Lempert, author of the accreditation bill and chair of the state's Assembly Committee on Higher Education, convinced state legislators of the importance of regional accreditation.

The proponents of the new accreditation laws hope this will encourage students to follow national standards and unaccredited school to gain regional accreditation.

"Passage of AB 400 was a tremendous victory for California psychologists and for the profession of psychology," says Safarjan.

--M. WATERS