Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology

Executive Summary

Why Do We Need the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology?

The APA Board of Educational Affairs (BEA) Steering Committee for the 2008 National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology designed these principles for quality teaching and learning for all stakeholders in higher education—students, faculty, departments, academic administrators, public policymakers, and the general public—to ensure that students are prepared for the challenges they will encounter as workers, family members, and concerned citizens in the new global century. These principles describe a set of recommendations for creating a world-class educational system that provides students with the workplace skills needed in this information age; a solid academic background that prepares them for advanced study in a wide range of fields; and the knowledge, skills, and values they will need to enter and succeed in the workforce and thrive in their daily lives.

The APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology represents an important statement from the national disciplinary association during a time when undergraduate education in the United States is under much scrutiny from the public. This document follows several related major projects of the last decade that have focused on quality improvement in psychology education. For example, in 2005, the APA Council of Representatives approved the National Standards for High School Psychology Curricula (APA, 2005); approval of the revised National Standards occurred in 2011. In 2006, the APA Council of Representatives approved the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (APA, 2007) to describe a set of optimal expectations for student performance at the completion of the baccalaureate degree. The APA Council of Representatives also received a Report on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing in a Developmentally Coherent Curriculum (APA, 2008). In 2008, APA convened the National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology on the campus of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. As a result of these important initiatives and the deliberations at this conference, the BEA Steering Committee prepared this new set of APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology.

Use of the Term Principles

In the context of this document, the term principles is used to describe these recommendations for quality undergraduate education in psychology. The term principles can be interpreted in the same way as the term guidelines. Use of the term guidelines generally refers to recommendations that are aspirational in intent. As noted in the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (APA, 2007), the higher education community and other scientific disciplines use the term guidelines in a similar way. Moreover, as used in this document, use of the term principles is consistent with the provisions of the APA policy on Developing and Evaluating Standards and Guidelines Related to Education and Training in Psychology: Context, Procedures, Criteria, and Format, Section I C (1)(2004), as passed by the APA Council of Representatives.

Process of Developing the Quality Principles

The APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology was developed to offer recommendations for enhancing the teaching and learning of undergraduate psychology, yet the principles can be used as guidelines for other disciplines. These principles were patterned after an earlier set of recommendations, the Principles for Quality Undergraduate Psychology Programs (APA, 1994), developed after the 1991 APA National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

A copy of the unapproved Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology was published in Undergraduate Education in Psychology: A Blueprint for the Future of the Discipline (Halpern, 2010), a major outcome of the 2008 APA National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology. The conference steering committee provided leadership for the final version of the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology. The steering committee members represented a variety of institutional perspectives on the nature of the undergraduate curriculum and its aims and included Diane F. Halpern (Chair), Barry Anton, Bernard C. Beins, Charlie T. Blair-Broeker, Charles L. Brewer, William Buskist, Bettina J. Casad, Wallace E. Dixon, Jr., Yolanda Y. Harper, Mary E. Kite, Patricia Puccio, and Courtney A. Rocheleau.

The BEA Steering Committee was informed by the comments provided by many individuals, APA governance groups, APA divisions, undergraduate psychology departments, and many other organizations in psychology, including the Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (COGDOP); the Council of Undergraduate Programs in Psychology (CUPP); the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR); regional psychological associations; and the state, provincial, and territorial psychological associations.

Under the leadership of Diane Halpern, members of the BEA Steering Committee reviewed all of the submitted comments and developed a revised draft of the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology in early 2010. Subsequent to legal review, this revised document was available for 90 days of public comment. APA governance groups and subsequently, the APA Board of Directors, received the revised document in the fall of 2010. In February 2011, the APA Council of Representatives adopted the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology.

Resource Documents

Resources used to create the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology included drafts of book chapters reporting on the recommendations of the 2008 National Conference on Undergraduate Education in Psychology. In addition, the BEA Steering Committee consulted the earlier recommendations from the 1991 APA National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology. Information about the St. Mary’s Conference was published in an APA book entitled Handbook on Enhancing Undergraduate Psychology (McGovern, 1993).

Members of the BEA Steering Committee reviewed the document to ensure its consistency with other APA policy documents, such as the APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (APA, 2002) and the Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational Change for Psychologists (APA, 2003). This procedure is specified in the APA Policy on Developing and Evaluating Standards and Guidelines Related to Education and Training in Psychology: Context, Procedures, Criteria, and Format (APA, 2004).

Feedback

The BEA Steering Committee views the APA Principles for Quality Undergraduate Education in Psychology as a “living document.” Accordingly, the Education Directorate will implement a systematic plan for the future review and revision of this document to reflect national and international developments in the discipline and in education. These principles are scheduled to expire 10 years from the date of their adoption, in February 2021. This is consistent with provisions of APA Association Rule 30-8.3, requiring cyclical review of approved standards and guidelines within periods not to exceed 10 years. After this date, users are encouraged to contact the APA Education Directorate to determine whether this document remains in effect.

Comments and suggestions on these principles are welcome. Feedback may be sent to:

Precollege and Undergraduate Education
Education Directorate
American Psychological Association
750 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002-4242