When Scotty Hargrove, PhD, joined APA's Committee on Accreditation (CoA), he discovered that CoA is different from any other committee he had worked with.
For one thing, it's more work than he expected.
The group that evaluates doctoral, internship and postdoctoral psychology programs meets at least three times a year for three-and-a-half days. At any given meeting, CoA reviews and makes accreditation decisions for up to 90 programs. Members are expected to do at least 40 hours of preparation before any meeting even begins. Last year alone, the committee reviewed the accreditation status of 340 doctoral programs, 457 internship programs and six postdoctoral programs.
And the process of the committee's 21 members coming to a decision on the status of a program is a very intense experience, committee members say.
"The committee takes the program review process very seriously," says Susan Zlotlow, PhD, director of APA's Office of Program Consultation and Accreditation, which provides support for the committee. "Decisions are based on thorough discussion of a program's mission, goals, curricula and outcomes."
CoA outlines the process in two publications: the Guidelines and Principles of Accreditation of Programs in Professional Psychology (G&P) and the Accreditation Operating Procedures, available online.
Hargrove, who represents the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP) on the committee, says that during program reviews, the group places a strong emphasis on the basic science core of psychology.
"Before I went on the committee, I had no idea that that value was held so strongly," he says. "And that's not to say that every institution has to implement science in its curriculum in the same way, but that value [of science] is always a part of CoA's conversation."
The G&P requires programs to specify education and training objectives in terms of competencies; implement a clear, coherent curriculum plan; demonstrate adequate resources, including a core faculty; recognize the importance of cultural and individual diversity; have adequate student-faculty interaction; and provide public disclosure.
While most accreditation decisions are positive, the committee does flag 40 to 50 programs each year because of concerns that the program may not be meeting some aspect of the G&P. At the program's next evaluation, it will have the opportunity to show the progress it has made.
"CoA really serves an educative function," explains Zlotlow. "The process is designed to help programs to become better, not to punish them."
However, a program that consistently raises concerns can be put on probation, and in extreme cases, its accreditation can be revoked. These two steps occur infrequently, according to Zlotlow, because CoA's goal is to help programs turn themselves around before they become troubled.
Since 1996, five out of 101 applicant programs have been denied accreditation and another 15 out of 639 programs seeking continued accreditation have been put on probation. No program's accreditation has been revoked under the new G&P.
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