Speaking of Education

The APA Education Directorate's commitment to promoting quality in education received considerable support at the APA Council of Representatives' meeting this summer. The council endorsed three significant policy statements that will greatly influence psychology at multiple levels.

At the undergraduate level, the council approved revised guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. The newly revised learning goals and outcomes reflect what an undergraduate student is expected to know and be able to do after completing a bachelor's degree in psychology.

The guidelines provide learning indicators for lower-division courses often taught at community colleges, as well as assessment tools for each learning goal. Of special note is that the revised learning goals and outcomes are designed to prepare students for the workforce as well as graduate study in psychology. Thus, they emphasize the advantages of studying psychology as a strong liberal arts preparation for multiple career paths, in addition to preparation in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) discipline. A final improvement is the emphasis on the development of skills in dealing with diversity that is infused throughout the document.

At the postgraduate education level, the council adopted a resolution that instructs APA's Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) to integrate specific quality principles into all policy related to continued professional development and formal continuing education (CE) for psychologists. Although psychology has long recognized the need to develop and maintain competence as an ethical obligation, little policy has been developed regarding the nature of those efforts, other than that found in the Criteria for Approval of Sponsors of Continuing Education. This new resolution highlights the need for continued professional development and CE activities to provide evidence-based content and to incorporate educational methods that have been empirically supported. APA has formally endorsed evidence-based education! Other core requirements include the assessment of learning outcomes, attention to issues of diversity, and use of multiple teaching methods designed to enhance retention and translation of new learning to professional work. In addition to guiding the development of continued professional development and CE activities, these guidelines will also inform policymakers and help promote public confidence in psychology's commitment to maintaining psychologists' competence.

At the graduate education level, the council adopted a resolution calling for future health-service psychologists to be trained in accredited doctoral and accredited internship programs as a requirement for licensure. This policy conveys to regulators, policymakers, students and the public that psychology is committed to fulfilling its social contract with society by developing standards for preparing practitioners and being a self-regulating profession. It is consistent with the movement toward a single standard as advocated by many groups within psychology and as already adopted by other health professions. The resolution will not affect students currently in the pipeline or those currently licensed. To find out more, visit our Frequently Asked Questions.

As the policymaking group for psychology's largest membership organization, APA's Council of Representatives does not come to decisions lightly. Before the council adopts any guideline or standard, proposals are reviewed by numerous groups in APA governance, as well as external organizations and the public. The policy statements are developed through an iterative process in which comments are received, revisions made and more comments solicited.

Each effort described here reflects years of hard work by APA members, BEA and Education Directorate staff. Special recognition is due to Dr. Jane Halonen for chairing the revision of the undergraduate psychology major guidelines, Dr. Susan Simonian for chairing the development of the principles for quality professional development and continuing education, and BEA chairs Dr. Margaret Madden, Dr. Michael Roberts and Dr. Celiane Rey-Casserly, who shepherded the 2011 BEA Statement on Accreditation through to becoming APA policy.