CU-Colorado Springs to offer new doctoral degree

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs will offer a doctoral degree specializing in the psychiatric needs of older Americans beginning in Fall 2004, university officials announced Feb. 10.

By unanimous vote, the members of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education on Friday approved the new degree during a regular meeting in Denver. The degree is the first doctoral-level degree to be offered in the university’s College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The program will be called Geropsychology and will be one of four specific programs offered in the nation.

The University of Southern California, Washington University, St. Louis, and the University of Alabama offer similar programs.

“There is a tremendous need for professionals with expertise in mental health assessments and intervention,” Chancellor Pam Shockley said. “This need will continue to grow as the Baby Boom generation ages and as continued medical advances allow us to live longer lives. The commissioners are to be complimented for recognizing this need and the abilities of the UCCS faculty.”

In October, the Colorado Board of Regents approved the degree. CCHE approval was required before enactment.

“The Psychology Department is prepared to move into doctoral-level training. They have created one of the top departments in the country,” Linda Nolan, dean, Letters, Arts and Sciences, said. “The program can be offered very efficiently with a focused set of new courses in aging and in advanced aspects of psychological research and practice.”

The program will target students who already hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees in psychology and will provide lecture-based course work, practical clinical experience, an off-site clinical internship, a comprehensive examination and a dissertation of original scholarship. A minimum of five years post-baccalaureate work is anticipated.

The number of students enrolled in the program will be small. Three students are expected in Fall 2004 and as many as 11 students are expected to enroll by 2008. One to three students per year will graduate beginning 2008.

The students will work closely with the CU Aging Center, a community-based mental health services and research facility located near the Colorado Springs Senior Center, 1510 N. Hancock. Additionally, the program will work cooperatively with aging research and education efforts based at the CU Health Sciences Center in Denver and the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities.

“Receiving approval to offer this degree is the culmination of many years of hard work,” Sara Qualls, professor, Psychology, and leader of a faculty committee that studied the degree, said. “We have achieved one goal and we will now set our sights on implementing something that we have previously only dreamed about.”

According to Qualls, 20 percent of the U.S. population will be more than 65 years old by 2020. In Colorado, the rate of growth of the aging population is expected to be dramatic. By 2018, Colorado will be home to 700,000 older adults, an 80 percent increase from 1998. To meet the needs of this population, 65 full-time practicing geropsychologists are needed. The state currently has ten individuals who identify themselves as geropsychologists. There are three on the UCCS faculty.

Representatives from the judicial system, support groups for older Americans and health care providers supported the new degree. Many wrote letters to the Regents to encourage approval of the new field of study.

Former Fourth Judicial District Judge E. David Griffith wrote: “the leadership of a Ph.D. program in gerontology is just what we need and it arrives in this state at the critical point in time for its greatest service.”

Linda Mitchell, executive director, Rocky Mountain Alzheimer’s Association, wrote: “there is a great need in our state, particularly in southern Colorado, for mental health professionals with expertise in assessing an treating individuals with age-related cognitive impairments like Alzheimer’s disease.”

Mikki Kraushaar, president, Silver Key, wrote: “From a period of 1990 to 2010, it is estimated there will be a 285 percent increase in the 85 years and older age group. We have a significant need for trained people to deal with these problems which grow day by day.”