Studies show that behavioral health providers who share a racial or cultural identity with their patients exhibit higher treatment effectiveness and retention rates that providers who do not. However, national studies also show that the demographics of the behavioral health workforce do not match those of the population in need of behavioral health services. One proposed strategy to increase the diversity of the behavioral health workforce is to increase the rate at which behavioral health provider training programs recruit and retain diverse students.

For the purposes of this study, the Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center (BHWRC) partnered with the American Psychological Association (APA) to study APA-accredited health service psychology (HSP) doctoral programs, and developed a two-phase project. The first phase would be an analysis of the APA’s Commission on Accreditation (CoA) data, which tracks demographic and educational metrics for students in APA-accredited HSP doctoral programs. The second phase would be the development of an online supplementary survey by the BHWRC, to capture variables not covered by the CoA’s data. This survey was disseminated by the APA to a sample of 358 HSP doctoral programs in the Fall 2017, and yielded a response rate of roughly 31%.

Key Findings:

Data requested from the APA’s Commission on Accreditation (CoA) revealed that the average HSP doctoral student population from 2012 to 2015 was predominately female (77%) and white (65%), and the average faculty population during the same time was also mostly female (52%) and white (73%). Both of these populations are in contrast to the broader United States population as of 2016, which was 51% female and 61% white.

The proportion of non-White students has grown from 32% in 2012 to 33% in 2015.Although overall attrition rates decreased from 2012 to 2015, a greater percentage of female students dropped out (3%) than male students (2%), and a greater percentage of non-White students dropped out (3%) than White students (2%).

The CoA data did not track certain measures of diversity, such as student sexual orientation, rural/urban background, first-generation degree seeker status, or age.The BHWRC’s supplemental survey revealed that fewer than half of the responding HSP programs tracked student age (46%), and less than a tenth tracked sexual orientation (9%), rural/urban background (7%), or first-generation status (9%).

The most common barrier cited by HSP programs to reaching recruitment goals were a lack of diversity among faculty/staff (47%) and lack of scholarship availability (41%). The most popular methods for attracting/recruiting diverse students was outreach via an educational pipeline (65%), providing financial assistance (59%), and offering campus visits/tours to underrepresented populations (51%). About 91% of the responding programs offered some form of financial assistance to incoming students each year, and 54% of those offered financial packages specifically meant to increase diversity within the student body.