Brouhaha brewing over nonaccredited programs in California It’s all about turf and finances,” charges official of “approved” psychology program that isn’t “accredited”

By John Thomas, Associate Editor
March 1, 1999 - Last updated: May 31, 2011

A legislative proposal to limit the practice of psychology in California to graduates of regionally approved schools will be opposed by the 21 state-approved graduate schools.

“There will be a fight,” promised Al Ross, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Ryokan College, a state-approved, but not regionally accredited, psychology graduate school in Los Angeles.

“It’s all about turf and finances,” Ross said of the attempt by the California Psychological Association (CPA) and others to deny the right to practice psychology to graduates of the non-regionally accredited schools.

“The CPA and the APA (American Psychological Association) would like to see us go out of business so they could recruit all our students,” Ross charged. “But that won’t happen. If our students wanted to go to accredited schools, they would have done that it the first place.”

Those charges were denied by Bill Safarjan. Ph.D., past president of the CPA and chair of the CPA Graduate Education Task Force, and Charles Faltz, Ph.D., CPA director of Professional Affairs and staff liaison to the graduate task force.
Both said that CPA hopes to be able to work with many state-approved graduate schools to help them win accreditation.

“We have no interest in closing down any school,” Faltz said. He explained that all graduates of as well as students already enrolled in state-proved graduate schools would be grandfathered, which would allow those individuals to continue to practice in California.

“But,” Safarjan warned, “somewhere down the road, some of these (state-approved) schools would no longer be allowed to grant the Ph.D. in psychology.

Faltz said that when state-approved Ph.D.’s are eliminated, the schools will still be able to offer graduate education at the master’s level, particularly in the are of family therapy.

California is the only state that allows graduates of non-regionally accredited school to sit for the national psychology exam, according to Randolph P. Reaves, executive officer and general counsel for the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

Because graduates of state-approved schools of psychology can sit for the national exam, graduates of regionally accredited schools cannot take advantage of reciprocity agreements among the various states and are forced to take a state psychology exam if they want to practice in another state, Reaves said.

Graduates of state-approved graduate schools, according to CPA, cannot practice psychology outside California, although there is some question about this matter.

Ross and Marvin Koven, Ph.D., president of the California Graduate Institute, said graduates of their state-approved schools are practicing in other states. But ASPPB’s Reaves said, “if there are any graduates of state-approved California graduate schools of psychology in any other state, I’m not aware of it.”

Another drawback for graduates of state-approved schools is that they cannot be listed in the National Registry of Health Service Providers in Psychology, which keeps at least some these graduates from receiving third-party payment.
Judy E. Hall, Ph.D., executive officer of the National Registry, said the organization support’s CPA’s effort to require regional accreditation as the minimum standard for psychology licensure in California.

Finally, graduates of state-approved schools can join APA, but are limited to associate membership. The APA Model Act for State Licensure of Psychologists states that “by 1995 all applicants for licensure must minimally be graduates of a regionally accredited institution of higher education…”

Students at non-accredited schools are not eligible for federal student loans.

Koven, who heads the state’s largest private non-profit state-licensed professional school, said he is not convinced that the upcoming battle is one that needs to be fought, since there seems to be a clear understanding by students at both kinds of schools about what their prospects are.

In a statement echoed by Ross, Koven said, “we tell our students upfront that if they want to practice in some state other than California, then they better go to a school accredited by the Western Association for Schools and Colleges.”
However, both noted, that some students have contacted out-of-state psychology licensing boards and have worked out individual agreements on what they need to do in order to practice psychology outside of California.

Even the dean of a school that recently went from state-approved to regionally accredited said he was “ambivalent” about CPA’s effort to go to a single licensing standard.

Bob Schmitt, Ph.D., dean of the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, said it took 13 years for the school to receive accreditation one year ago.

“For us, it makes a big difference. We are able to attract more students and we are now considered a “player” in educating future psychologists,” Schmitt said.

But he was quick to add that because his school was willing to put in the time, effort and money to gain accreditation, it didn’t mean every school should.

“Accreditation worked for us,” Schmitt said, “but it might not work for everybody. I’m really ambivalent about requiring all graduate schools to be accredited.”

Ross and Koven said that for the most part the psychology community in California pays little attention to whether someone graduated from an accredited or approved school.

One California psychotherapist, Judith Hecker, Ph.D., received her psychology degree from an approved school and her doctorate in philosophy from Berkeley, an accredited school.

“Having gone to both kinds of schools, I can tell you that it’s hard to tell the difference,” Hecker said.

Meanwhile, Koven said he is looking forward to receiving help from CPA to seek accreditation for the California Graduate Institute. He said that his school was denied accreditation in the early ’80s.

Ross, who is considered to be among the most outspoken foes of mandated accreditation, said he intends to continue to speak his mind both personally and through the Alliance for Private Post-Secondary Academic Institutions.

Many of the private state-approved schools were started following World War II when returning veterans filled up the state schools and universities. The state was unable to keep up with the number of students in its own system and allowed the formation of private state-licensed professional graduate schools to fill the demand.

Proponents of the state-approved system say their education costs about half of the accredited schools. They add that the programs can be accelerated and held in times and places much more convenient to students than many of the accredited schools.

And they add that most of the part-time faculty used in state-approved schools teach full time in accredited schools.

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