UAA will open its doors for eight doctoral students, the first students in the history of UAA able to complete Ph.D. coursework in its entirety in Anchorage on Aug. 30. The degree these students will receive, in clinical-community psychology with an emphasis in rural and indigenous peoples, is the result of a partnership between the psychology departments at UAA and UAF.
The benefits of this program will extend beyond psychology students, said Doug Causey, vice provost of research and graduate studies at UAA.
“The kind of research and the kind of teaching you have with a Ph.D. program is more involved, more complex than we (UAA) have offered in the past,” Causey said. “When you are offering these types of programs, it elevates the level of instruction all students have access to.”
Christiane Brems, UAA director of clinical training for the doctoral program, said the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. while remaining at UAA is a huge breakthrough.
“The benefits are tremendous, especially for students,” Brems said. “This will open up funding streams for UAA. The university can now apply for grants that previously we weren’t eligible for because we didn’t teach doctoral students.”
The program was started through a joint effort by students, faculty, and administrators.
When demands for a clinical-community psychology program increased, a needs assessment was performed; health care agency directors from around Alaska were interviewed during the assessment, which allowed university administrators to identify acute health care needs in the state.
“What we wanted was a program that would uniquely fit and accommodate the needs of this state,” Brems said. “We wanted to meet the complex demands of rural service delivery; we wanted to train people to understand the various cultural issues.”
Causey said UAA seeks to develop programs that satisfy an unmet need in the state and that will offer long-term benefits to the community.
The UA Board of Regents approved the program in June of 2005. Prior to this program being added to the UA curriculum, Alaska was the only state in the country without a doctoral program in psychology.
“Alaska was the last state without a psychology doctoral program, and yet it is also the state that is in the top five to ten with any number of mental health problems like suicide, depression, substance abuse and alcohol abuse,” Brems said
Four new faculty members will be recruited from a national pool to serve the needs of the new program. The existing psychological services center at UAA, on the second floor of the SSB, will be expanded.
The program requires equal contributions by both UAA and UAF. Half of all courses will be offered at UAA, and half will be offered at UAF. Students will participate in remote courses via videoconference. Half of all students in the program will be admitted at UAA, half at UAF.
“We are trying to keep it exactly equal,” Brems said.
The Ph.D. program Web site reads: “All program courses are co-taught across campuses … and all program components are delivered by faculty at both campuses. The student experience is identical regardless of students’ city of residence (Fairbanks or Anchorage).”
Currently, annual admissions to the program have been capped at 16 students, 8 on each campus.
UAA program coordinator Anissa Hauser said students wanting to apply for the program must fulfill a list of requirements, including completion of a baccalaureate degree, as well as a group of specific psychology courses. Students also must maintain a 3.0 grade point average and submit a letter of intent explaining why they wish to be admitted into the program.
One question that has yet to be answered is whether the diploma awarded to graduates of the Ph.D. program will bear the names of both UAA and UAF. Currently, UAA is not accredited as a Ph.D.-granting institution. As such, if a diploma were to be awarded through the program now, it would be a UAF diploma.
The first group of students to complete the program will gradate in three years. If UAA has not earned accreditation to award doctoral degrees by that time, students will receive a UAF diploma, regardless of where they complete their coursework.
Previously, administrators at UAA have not pursued doctoral accreditation as a result of a policy decision made many years ago, but the possibility of changing this policy grows as the needs of the state and student population evolve.
“There is a real reason why that policy existed,” Causey said. “We are a small state in population and it didn’t really make sense to have two institutions that offered identical programs at this (doctoral) level. That was then, this is now. There are some things UAF does well and some things UAA does well. There are some programs that UAA specifically should offer a Ph.D. in.”
Brems said the issues surrounding what will appear on the diplomas for the program will be settled when “they become more acute”.
The details of how the diploma looks just aren’t important, Causey said.
“When you have Ph.D. programs, you attract very strong faculty,” Causey said. “You have a stronger, better-educated student body. Also, you have a whole world of research opportunities and external funding that opens up. What the diploma says at the top just doesn’t matter.”