A recent graduate of a school psychology program received two job offers in California. One will pay $65,000 in a practitioner job. The other offers $45,000 to be a full-time faculty member in a school psychology program. Despite a longtime interest in academe, the graduate took the practitioner job.
The decision mirrors that of many graduate students in school psychology who are opting to take practice or other positions over a career in academe.
The Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs (CDSPP) and Div. 16 (School) are working to change that soon. Div. 16 and CDSPP plan to address the shortage of school psychology faculty at their February meetings, brainstorming possible solutions to the problem that has plagued the field since the late 1990s.
In the past few years, one quarter of the nation's 200-plus school psychology programs have been looking to fill one or more faculty positions. It's a worrying trend that can affect the quality of training and cause a scarcity of school psychologists at a time when the demand for them is growing, says Div. 16 President-elect Elaine Clark, PhD.
"The shortage of school psychology faculty is very serious and is a problem that is also impacting our ability to address the critical needs of children and communities," says Clark, who has made it one of her presidential initiatives to address this issue.
Two main factors have contributed to this shortage--the increasing number of school psychologists retiring, as well as an increase in new positions being created in practice and university training programs due to school psychologists' high demand. A comparison of the 1989-90 school year to 1999-2000 shows that the percentage of school psychologists age 50 or older increased 12.6 percent, while those 40 or younger dropped by 12 percent, according to a study by National Association of School Psychologists, which surveyed master's specialists and doctoral-level school psychologists.
Part of the problem is that many school psychology graduate students perceive the "practitioner world as more appealing," says CDSPP chair Lisa Bischoff, PhD. Bischoff says that institutions should make the university setting more supportive for junior faculty members, such as providing more mentoring.
Better pay and making the tenure system less intimidating might also need to be considered in attracting more faculty to these positions, Clark adds. Ensuring that the graduate education experience is more positive may also help motivate more students to pursue academic careers.
"School psychology is such an important specialty, and it deserves to be protected," adds Clark. "[Students] think it's not as exciting to train professionals as the practice itself."
However, a faculty position offers a rich opportunity to influence the field, says Ron Palomares, PhD, APA's assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in schools. "It's truly rewarding to train and direct the individuals who will one day be working with our children across the nation," says Palomares, who was a faculty member in the school psychology program at Texas Woman's University before coming to APA. "The opportunity to help children is much broader [in a faculty position]." Palomares says faculty members also have a great ability to affect children through their research.
Gary Stoner, PhD, director of the school psychology program at University of Massachusetts Amherst, recommends that faculty talk with graduate students early in their careers about working in academe. Faculty need to ensure that students have high-quality training experiences and allow students to work with productive faculty researchers to gain experience in research, he says.
"We should help [students] become competent and productive researchers while in graduate school so they will be able to one day see themselves in a research role," he says.