A re-examination of higher education has been under way for over a decade in our nation. Although our system has been touted as the world's best, there have been calls for increased accountability, affordability, accessibility and responsiveness to societal needs.
In re-examining higher education we should be mindful of the axiom, "Don't fix it if it isn't broken!" However, we must also recognize that changes over the last decade have already affected our entire system--changes in technology, demographics, employment markets, models of delivery and the academy itself. Fueled by globalization and the growth of the adult student market, e-education is a hot commodity. Prestigious universities offer graduate degree programs online, and education publishers are partnering with universities and distance-learning companies to compete in the marketplace. How do we assure quality in this environment? Regional accrediting commissions are near agreement on the evaluation of distance education; the focus will be on student learning outcomes. Is that sufficient for quality assurance of graduate education in psychology?
With the focus on producing graduates who can help grow the economy, there are also predictions that curricula will be increasingly dictated by trends in business and industry. In psychology, there are calls for increased training for a changing marketplace, e.g., health care. While training for the "real world" is important, it is also the case that our system of graduate education has actually helped create new marketplace opportunities for psychology. Moreover, not all systems driven by the marketplace are in the public interest. So in our re-envisioning, I challenge us to consider the differences between "market driven" and "market sensitive" approaches to graduate education in psychology.
Yet graduate education is only one aspect of education in psychology and psychology in education. The infrastructure of psychology as a discipline and a profession extends through undergraduate education into our K12 system (and up through continuing education, as described in my June column). APA's efforts extend throughout the range. Influencing school practices is a goal of our Center for Psychology in Schools and Education. Our Learner-Centered Psychological Principles are applicable to all disciplines and provide a framework for school reform. We must also advance psychology's contribution in understanding cognitive, social and emotional aspects of educational technology at all levels of education.
This year I've been delighted to ensure that APA's high school teachers committee, TOPSS, is involved in every presidential initiative. These teachers are key players in our public education efforts, providing nearly 1 million students a year with their first exposure to psychology as a science and a profession. They also impact psychology's pipeline. We should promulgate our National Standards for Teaching of High School Psychology to every state board of education in the nation.
Another significant constituency is APA's Community College Working Group. Nearly half of all college students are enrolled in two-year institutions, which comprise about 42 percent of all higher education institutions (fewer than 7 percent are doctoral/research universities). Outreach to all psychology educators is important, and we welcome their affiliation with APA. The Psychology Partnerships Project has made significant progress in linking teachers across levels.
A recent thrust in education has been to institutionalize a K16 perspective through the alignment of curricula and academic standards between the traditionally independent K12 and postsecondary systems. Alignment across all levels is important within psychology. It will be prompted by inquiries from state boards of education as to the value of discipline majors, and by our commitment to inform consumers and the public as to outcomes expected at each level of psychology's education and training sequence. To accomplish this we must be able to articulate the competencies achieved at each level. APA now has a task force to address the undergraduate major, and readiness for professional practice has been recently addressed by the Commission on Education and Training Leading to Licensure.
We can do more
Although psychology has made significant progress in addressing quality and accountability in education, we must do more to ensure our discipline's leadership in the national arena of academic disciplines. APA relates to more than 30 external education organizations/agencies that play significant roles in setting boundaries for our discipline's future. We also maintain relationships with over 20 psychology education and training organizations that are external to APA and have no regularly scheduled conjoint meetings to address issues and solve problems. To foster sustained collaboration among organizations and APA, we need education leadership conferences such as those held for state and division leaders. Although there is strength in the diversity of education, there is weakness in its fragmentation. We can do something about that. Aloha.