Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Minor Questions about Research Methods

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

Minor Questions about Research Methods

Article excerpt

The academic major was born in the late 1800's and became a requirement at many American colleges and universities by the early 1900's, as a system that balanced concentrated and distributed learning overtook a largely elective system that preceded it (Rudolph, 1977). Introduced at about that same time, academic minors provided focused study without the same depth as the chosen major. On some campuses (fewer than one in four), the minor has since risen to a requirement while remaining an option on many campuses--and entirely absent on others (Rudolph, 1977).

After more than a century, relatively little scholarship has examined the minor. Many histories of higher education devote no attention to the topic, and research related to academic minors is uncommon. Stache, Perlman, McCann, and McFadden (1994) collected surveys from nearly 300 hundred departments that offer a psychology minor program. From their survey findings, they made recommendations on program structures, the need for stated values and goals, how to address enrollment issues, and the need for assessment on what values/skills students seek from a minor in psychology. Despite this comprehensive assessment of the current standing of psychology minor programs, academicians and researchers have since seemed unmoved. Instead, the past two decades have been remarkable for the new attention and energy devoted to the undergraduate major in psychology.

The psychology major is one the most sought-after major programs in American higher education; in the most recent academic year for which statistics are available, 2014-2015, 117,600 bachelor's degrees were awarded in psychology (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). Still, until recently, the American Psychological Association (APA) devoted most of its evaluative efforts and guidance to post-baccalaureate programs. APA work related to undergraduate programs had been "inconsistent and uncoordinated over the years" (Norcross, Hailstorks, Aiken, Pfund, Stamm, & Christidis, 2016, p. 90). That appears to be changing, as twice in the last decade, the APA has published Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (APA, 2007, 2013). These guidelines, however, provide only a singular, passing mention of the minor.

Reporting on the Undergraduate Study in Psychology, which is a large-scale initiative to establish a database on undergraduate curricula and outcomes, Norcross et al. (2016) provided the most up-to-date, though limited, overview of the psychology minor. They found that the vast majority of undergraduate departments of psychology offer a minor, typically comprising approximately eighteen credit hours. Decades earlier, Stache et al. (1994) found that among psychology minor programs at that time, 20% required statistics and 18% required research methods. It is unclear why some minor programs have a research-focus, while many do not. Their data led them to conclude that "we suspect that few departments have ever defined their goals for the minor" (p.72).

The purported neglect of developing goals for the minor runs counter to the APA's guidance:

"Current best practices in higher education rely on setting clear expectations for student learning, aligning curricula with these expectations, assessing student attainment, and using assessment results to effect changes that promote more efficient and effective student learning." (APA, 2013, p. 102)

The purpose of the current pair of studies was to 1) estimate the extent to which psychology minor programs currently have easily ascertained goals and 2) to assess the perspectives of students and faculty regarding a research-focused versus interpersonal-focused psychology minor.

STUDY 1

Method

The fifty flagship state universities were assessed to determine whether a minor in psychology was offered. The College Board defines flagship universities as being "... the best-known institutions in the state, were generally the first to be established, and are frequently the largest and most selective, as well as the most research-intensive public universities. …

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