Picture this: The broad-based psychology doctorate is streamlined into training areas dictated by the market. Professors and students do less lab-based research and more field investigations. The dissertation is scaled down. The time to degree reduced.

It's an extreme scenario, but a possible one in the eyes of at least one market forecaster. According to Anthony Carnevale, PhD, economist and Educational Testing Service vice president, "The doctoral education system that we have now is not set up for the labor market, but the one we're headed for will be. In America the market always wins."

The market may not triumph so easily in this case, however, considering that the very breadth and depth that's come under fire ultimately intends to benefit the market, and society in general. The movement to reform the doctorate faces particular complexities and challenges, as market sensitivity has long been a source of debate and tension in graduate education. One concern is that psychology and other fields lack empirical evidence that specialized training makes for better professional performance, says Emanuel Donchin, PhD, psychology department chair at the University of South Florida.

"That's a myth," he says. "What we're striving to produce in graduate education are well-rounded individuals with habits of thought and approaches and perceptions that allow them to change with the field and engage in lifelong learning, rather than ossify around a particular set of practice roles." Their career adaptability depends on such doctoral staples as measurement, skepticism and the scientific method, he says. Yet the fact remains that such market forces as increased education costs and more accountability continue to heighten the tension between vocational and academic preparation, says Carnevale.

In psychology education, doctoral programs such as those at Nova Southeastern University's Center for Psychological Studies have responded by building their offerings in, for example, psychopharmacology, clinical health psychology, forensic psychology and long-term mental health care. "Faculty have to envision a new future, rather than looking backward to notoriously overpopulated outpatient psychotherapy and tenure-track faculty jobs," says Ronald F. Levant, EdD, dean of the center and chair of APA's 1998 Board of Directors Task Force on Envisioning, Identifying and Assessing New Professional Roles.

In some educators' view, psychology has been responsive enough to the market--developing shorter-term therapies and applied research demanded by government and industry, and offering more training in such growing areas as neuroscience. Still others think the field has gone too far in bowing to the market. While meeting market demands, graduate education must preserve its essence, some caution. "Graduate education should be market sensitive but not completely market driven since it is the place in our society where new knowledge is developed that then actually creates the new markets for the future," says Cynthia Belar, PhD, APA's executive director for education. "Graduate education is about developing capabilities, not just specific vocational skills, although these are clearly important."

APA's Education Directorate has been grappling with these varying viewpoints. Working with other national educational organizations, it is asking questions about the core competencies that doctoral graduates should have, as well as more specific, career-oriented competencies.

Why the squeeze?

As they consider doctoral reform, educators and students must take care to value the degree's original academic mission, advises American Council on Education President David Ward, PhD. He suggests that if it's quick access to high salaries students seek, they may want to pursue degrees other than the doctorate. "I just don't want to see the PhD lose its academic integrity," he says. Still, he acknowledges that, "We have never been very strategic about graduate education, and we do need to create more order out of it."

Indeed, market pressure, says Carnevale, "has been a constant tug" on graduate education since the blue-collar economy declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This upped the value of higher education for earning potential and employability, says Carnevale, but simultaneously exposed its inefficiencies.

"Education has become more of an economic good than ever, and, just as with production of barrels of oil, there's come increased pressure to do it better, faster and cheaper," he says. That push for education accountability is only gathering steam as Generation X moves through graduate education, Carnevale says. It's a smaller cohort than previous ones, forcing graduate programs to compete harder for students.

"When there's a scarcity of students and the money is tight, like now, there's a tendency to make the doctoral degree more job-specific," says Carnevale. "You're selling the degree to students to increase their earning power. It's a buyers' market." Market observers say graduate education will get a reprieve later this decade when a larger demographic cohort, Generation Y, enters graduate school at the same time that a wave of faculty retires. Ultimately, though, graduate education will need to evolve to survive, Carnevale claims.

Fundamentals at stake

But would such a market-driven evolution undermine the intellectual rigor and research base of doctoral education? Yes, says David Scott Hargrove, PhD, chair of APA's Committee on Accreditation and psychology department chair at the University of Mississippi. In fact, that foundation has already begun eroding, he says.

"When we stopped requiring foreign languages, that said something about whether the PhD is education or training," he says. "The argument was you don't need foreign language to read the psychology literature. But the requirement had been there for the intellectual discipline and cultural affiliation, both critical to education."

Hargrove argues that the doctorate is meant to provide "broad and general" training in the discipline--from the biological and social bases of behavior to individual differences and diversity. In fact, he notes, breadth is a requirement in APA's accreditation guidelines for doctoral programs in professional psychology. "The pressure to provide job skills is to our detriment," says Hargrove, noting that, to him, "a PhD is a doctor in philosophy" and is geared for flexibility.

Chris Loftis, chair-elect of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students, agrees. Doctoral students' exposure to the core areas of history, theory, research and practice enables them to "move about easily" in the market, says Loftis, a doctoral student at the University of Florida. "Over-specialization at the doctoral level might ill prepare a professional to competently adapt to market forces, or to changes in the types of client demographics and disorders that a psychologist sees," he says.

He and current APAGS chair, Derek Snyder, suggest that students focus on specialization and the market toward the end of their training--tapping career tracks and seminars, focusing their dissertations on specialty areas or pursuing targeted postdoctoral appointments. In addition, says Snyder, students need to focus on their own marketability in the training selections they make.

Unstoppable market forces

Deferring specialization is easier said than done, however, says recent doctoral graduate Miguel Gallardo, PsyD. As he neared the end of his clinical training at Alliant International University (formerly the California School of Professional Psychology), Los Angeles, Gallardo searched in vain for jobs offering salaries large enough to cover his ballooning student loans. "The field is very different from even a few years back," says Gallardo. "More traditional therapy is not really available, and there aren't many academic positions."

Gallardo thought a business-consulting job might pay enough, but found he'd need to pursue further training in business--not an option for him at the time. Luckily, his contacts through various psychology organizations, and placement at the University of California, Los Angeles counseling center for his internship, helped him land a job as staff psychologist in student services at the University of California, Irvine. But he says his experience illustrates a need for more attention to the market in doctoral training.

His call has not gone unheeded. Many programs have added tracks for more in-depth study in child, health, neuropsychology and other areas of expanding knowledge and new research and practice opportunities. A case in point is the neuropsychology-focused clinical program at the Chicago Medical School's Finch University of Health Sciences, where Sarah Keedy is enrolled. Keedy says that her "skills in neuropsychology are going to be relevant to me getting a job and being a hirable person."

Programs finding their niches in the landscape of graduate education are likely the wave of the future, says ETS's Carnevale. But at the same time, he says, many will resist the trend, claiming that catering to the market undercuts the academy's role as cultural contributor and watchdog. "The argument is if we're merely turning students into footsoldiers for capitalism, then this is becoming a barbaric system," he explains. "But if students can't get jobs, then they have to live barbarically in bad neighborhoods with no health insurance. The unavoidable truth is that jobs are at stake."

Yet Carnevale also does not want to see universities sacrifice their cultural and political value. And they don't have to, says Alliant International University President Judith Albino, PhD, because training breadth and so-called "softer" critical thinking and problem-solving skills are invaluable professional skills, too--and in fact are being explicitly requested from education by industry.

Further Reading

For more information, look for the sessions "Rethinking education in psychology and psychology in education: an overview of the 2001 ELC" and "Creative thinking about practice opportunities: preparing for your career," at APA's Annual Convention, Aug. 22- 25, in Chicago, or read the recently released report, Education for What? The New Office Economy, by Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose, www.ets.org/research/dload/EdExecSumm.pdf.