William S. Verplanck
University of Tennessee
This is the view–or views–of only one individual; it reflects those of many others as faithfully and as stably as a psychedelic light show might be reflected in the Hall of Mirrors of a fun house. Unresearched except by hearsay and academic intuition, it is brief.
A certain lack of prediction, a certain unverifiability of assertion hence marks this article. Its remarks, prognostications, prophesies, or, if you will, optimistic and clearly spine-chilling glimpses of rosy doom will maximize the information one obtains from reading what follows. Information, we are told, is synonymous with uncertainty; the more uncertainty, the more information. And uncertainty is what now prevails in academia.
At the present time, there are more bases for prediction, more trends that we can extrapolate, than have been available for many years. Unfortunately, there are too many of them, and each of them leads us to a different prediction. Each state legislature, each donor to the endowment of private universities and colleges, each parent and prospective student reaching his own conclusions on what he can and should invest in the future (in the annual cost of a college education), and each matriculated student (as he or she registers for a course or for a major) provides a basis for prediction of the future.
Over a period of far more than a decade, there were consistencies among these groups. The long period of consensus, of relative stability, began in the immediate postwar years and developed into one of intensive growth and increasing social and political commitment to higher education and to basic research. But the late 1960s have left their mark, and there have been fresh evaluations of national priorities that are still far from complete. This has coincided with a remarkable shift of values, interests, and needs toward the psychology of social change.
Today, there is only one consistent trend, and that is the decision of an increasingly high proportion of undergraduates to take courses in psychology, to major in our field, and to seek careers in one or another of the activist, the “coping” branches of psychology, as the undergraduates understand them. Indeed, students are accelerating change in our discipline by pressures in the courses they take and by their activities as they apply for graduate education and enter into the discipline. The consensus reflected in the remarkable registrations that departments of psychology are now facing comes at the very time when the groups that control the money and the resources of our society have reached no new or clear consensus on the status and future of higher education among competing demands. The students are there, but the tools required for us to meet their demands, or to plan firmly for them, are not.
The ferment of thinking on higher education confronts us with a clouded, frothing turbulence. Applications to high-tuition, self-supporting private colleges and universities are falling off, as they rise to publicly supported low-tuition ones. Some state legislatures, faced with belligerent taxpayers and with an increasing variety of highly defensible demands upon their funds, have reduced the state funds allocated to higher education. Some are holding the line. Some are increasing appropriations proportionally to the increasing numbers of students. Only a few, a very few, are appropriating funds enabling the increased expenditures required to increase the quality of education as well as to keep pace with demand.
The wealthy private institutions plan systematic cutbacks in their budgets, in their student bodies, in their faculty size, and necessarily in their scholarly and scientific enterprises, even as they request their alumni to supply funds for new programs and buildings, not to say to cover last year’s deficit.
Some governors and legislators, and some boards and commissions that are instrumentalities of the state, perhaps reflecting views on the bussing of children, are moving in the direction of “formula” appropriations that allocate the same amount of state funds per full-time student to community two-year colleges as to major state graduate and research institutions. Leveling, it is correctly called. In one state, a governor vetoes raises to faculty members, and in others, legislators pass laws prescribing the number of classroom contact hours required of each faculty member each week. Precedents developed for secondary schools are finding remarkable new applications.
Closer to the specific problems of each of us as psychologists in the academic area are our provosts, academic vice-presidents, and deans. They are reaching other more diverse decisions that affect the future of psychologists immediately. These are decisions that must be and are made against the background of state and private support of higher education in general, but with immediate student demands and local resources in the foreground. They may serve to amplify or minimize the effects on us of decisions reached at higher levels on education in general. Given the resources of their budgets and the constraints placed by the phenomenon of the tenured appointment, and given the sometimes rapidly developing shifts in students’ interests and hence in registrations, to what degree, they ask, should they–and can they–make the reallocations of funds required to meet those registrations in psychology, and the applications of clearly qualified men and women for graduate work in psychology?
Their early suspicions that psychologists had somehow hired students to take their courses, or had seduced them with high grades for little work, are gone. But the fallibility of prophesy is still with us, and it is well known to our deans and higher administrators. (Registrations in a department, they know, can drop just as fast as they can increase.) Each seems to be reaching his own conclusions, forming his own policies on the basis of his own experience. In these days of short tenures as administrators, the policies that emerge are necessarily varied.
With this, we can now make very concrete statements on the questions placed before us:
Will there be a supply of psychologists in the future? The answer is yes.
Will there be a demand for psychologists in the future? Again, yes.
Will there be salary profiles for psychologists in academia, at various ranks and seniorities? The answer again is yes–if someone continues to gather the data.
With these fatuous certainties asserted, we may ask and try to answer other questions:
How many bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD psychologists will emerge annually over the next 10-20 years? Here the answers become inscrutable.
Perhaps one must limit himself to the statement that it is unlikely that the number of PhDs completed over the next 10-20 years will exceed the number predicted from those in the academic pipeline now. Doctoral programs that are increasing in size are rare indeed, but there are still state systems that are contemplating adding new doctoral programs. The policies and budgets of many institutions suggest that over the next five years their output will decrease; data on graduate admissions in the spring of this academic year may give some clue. Any predicted net outcome of new programs, maintained programs, and reduced (or reducing) programs would be pure guesswork.
At the master’s level, a firmer prediction may be made. Over the middle run, say the next 10 years, there will surely be a substantial increase in the number of men and women educated as psychologists holding the master’s degree only. The recent action of the Council of Representatives in approving the report of the Task Force on the Master’s Degree in Psychology in admitting master’s degree psychologists into APA will assure that many institutions will begin to expand such programs and that a new generation of psychologists who are strongly oriented to the delivery of services to individuals and to organizations in their own communities will emerge. This breed of psychologists will likely prove far less peripatetic and more diverse in training than our present doctoral population (whether academic or clinical). These psychologists are likely to remain geographically close to the institutions that gave them their degrees. Their number will not be held down significantly by lack of support through assistantships or fellowships. They will be able to pay their own way. They will surely develop new kinds of activities, initiative, and programs that in time may yield a demand for new kind of research and academics and new kinds of advisory and supervisory functions for the PhD psychologist, whether experimental or clinical, and more of them, as well.
But this prediction has its own limitation. What will prove to be the demand for men and women with such training in the community? Will the new Masters of Arts and Masters of Science find the thousands of posts that seem now to be vacant for lack of trained men and women to fill them?
This confronts us with the question of demand for psychologists. Yes, there will be a demand for psychologists. But for how many? Of what sort? And to what proportion of the supply?
Once again, uncertainty is maximal. It would seem that there will be fewer posts available in PhD-granting institutions than there have been in the past. But that should have been true of the academic year 1971-1972; yet by the middle of this academic year, many departments have had many more inquiries for recommendations of their new graduates than in previous years. The academic demand is yielded by the very different decisions rendered by the administrations of various colleges and universities. Some institutions have been allocated funds commensurate with their enrollments, some as a result of firm and long-extended university policy, and some as a result of policy change. What is the net outcome? Gut reaction and rough impressions say that for this year at least the demand for academics is up; for industrial, down during this depression year; and for clinical, “holding.”
Right now, at several institutions, decisions remain in the balance that may yield for the current year as many as six new appointments, or as many as two nonreplacements of present personnel. If we cannot predict realistically in December 1971 the outcome for May 1972, then what can we say of 1980?
Longer range prognostication is barred. It is made absurd not only by the uncertainties of decisions by deans and provosts, and by those of legislature and of the subtle overpowering decisions of the Federal Office of Management and Budget, but also by the equally subtle and overpowering nondecisions and nonconsensus of public opinion in its support of hospitals and mental health centers, as well as of colleges and universities.
Which brings us to our third problem–that of the salaries likely to be paid to psychologists in the academic world over the next decade or so. The recent history of California suggests that academic psychologists will differ not at all from their nonpsychological brethren in being brought down from how high they feed off the hog in our society. At many institutions, salaries have not kept up with inflation, suggesting that academics may not be able to maintain their rank in income, unless, of course, the techniques of collective bargaining are applied in more states.
And what of psychologists specifically? Among academic disciplines, the salary levels of psychologists have remained near the average of academics of all fields. Perhaps we can be more optimistic for the near future, if only because as yet psychology has encountered neither the threat nor the reality of unemployment, as it has appeared in, say, physics and history.
In sum, then, where do we stand for the future? The answer of this individual is as follows: We face uncertainty. We in departments of psychology can and must be prepared to develop a variety of strategies and tactics that will enable us to meet ably and effectively the problems that will face us, produced by decisions over which we will have little control as a group, and as individuals, only as a small fraction of the electorate.