Prevalence of Careers in Psychology Courses at American Universities

Article excerpt

The authors assessed the psychology curricula at 251 American universities and colleges to determine whether they offered a career planning course. The majority of institutions (n = 219) did not offer such a course. However, larger universities were significantly more likely to offer these courses than were smaller universities.


Colleges and universities in the United States generally provide three complementary services to undergraduate students. First, universities generate new knowledge through research. Second, colleges and universities disseminate this information to new generations of learners. Third, and most relevant here, the economic structure of society also pressures college to be a place where career training and preparation occurs. In fact, an American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force included career planning and development as 1 of the 10 recommended learning outcomes for psychology majors (Halonen et al., 2002). To address this issue, career planning courses have appeared in the psychology curricula at some universities (Brewer, 1998; Lloyd, 2002; Murray, 1999).

Research indicates that these courses are successful in increasing career-related knowledge (Green, McCord, & Westbrook, 2005; Thomas & McDaniel, 2004), job search skills (Ware, 1988), career exploration and career decidedness (Thomas & McDaniel, 2004), graduate school related knowledge (Dodson, Chastain & Landrum, 1996), and self-knowledge (Ware, 1988). The results of these investigations imply that most psychology programs should make this type of course available to their students.

We investigated whether the accumulated research on careers in psychology courses has had any impact on psychology curricula in the United States. More specifically, we assessed whether careers in psychology courses were offered to students, as either required or elective courses, and if the size of the institution played a role in the availability of the course.


Using Peterson's Four Year Colleges (2004) and a random number table, we selected 251 colleges/universities for investigation. (1) The authors visited each university's website and collected the following information: (a) Was a careers in psychology course required for the major; (b) If not required for the major, was the course available as an elective; (c) If the course was a part of the psychology curriculum, how many credits did a student receive for passing the course; (d) Student enrollment at the university.


Of the 251 universities investigated, 17 required the course for the major. The course was worth one-credit at 13 of the 17 universities. An additional 15 universities offered the course as an elective for the psychology major. Of these 15 universities, eight offered a 1 credit section of the course, three a 2 credit course, and four universities offered a 3 credit course. On the basis of enrollment, colleges were placed into two categories: (a) colleges with fewer than 5000 students enrolled; (b) colleges with 5000 or more students. Eleven out of 129 (8.5%) "small" universities offered the course, whereas 21 of 122 (17.2%) "large" universities did. This difference was significant, [chi square] (1) = 4.25, p = .04.


The results indicate that psychology departments, in general, have not yet adopted (or, perhaps, have discarded) career courses as part of the curriculum. Considering that the extant literature indicates that students benefit from these courses in a number of ways this result is unfortunate. However, looking at the relationship between appearance of a careers course in the curriculum and enrollment provides two potential explanations. First, smaller universities/colleges tend to align themselves with the liberal arts tradition. The educational philosophy of liberal arts institutions typically emphasizes learning for the sake of learning, and thus may downplay an explicit emphasis on career preparation. …


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