The Need for School Psychologists’ Expertise in University Settings

Volume 44 Issue 1

By Emily Byrd & Tamara Hodges

School psychologists possess many abilities, such as being able to counsel, consult, and assess for cognitive, achievement, and social-emotional disabilities. While school psychologists work mostly in primary and secondary schools, those are not the only settings where their unique skill set can be used. Curtis, Greer, and Hunley (2004) note through a survey conducted with National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) members that in addition to public schools, school psychologists also work in private schools, universities, private practice, hospitals, and other medical facilities, and in other settings not specifically listed. While it was not specified whether the school psychologists working in university settings were working as faculty members or in other roles, the survey showed that only 6% of NASP members work in university or college settings (Curtis et al., 2002).

Limited literature exists on the opportunities for nonfaculty work as a school psychologist. In reviewing opportunities for school psychologists in other than school settings, NASP lists the following as alternative careers: school psychology university faculty, special education department administration, private practice, test publishing company/educational research, school neuropsychologist, and behavior specialist (Castillo-Thompson, 2011). As a graduate student in a school psychology program, one of us [Byrd] has had the opportunity to participate in a graduate assistantship at the Office of Access of Learning and Accommodation (OALA) of Baylor University, where students with disabilities at the university are offered assistance with regard to their unique needs. The most common accommodation that we give students is an alternate testing site to take their exams as well as additional time to take the exam. Byrd has been working as the graduate assistant at OALA for almost 2 years now. Her primary responsibility is signing students in and out of exams and assisting the testing coordinator with running the testing center. At OALA, there are also accommodation specialists who serve as advisors for students in OALA. OALA students have an accommodation specialist assigned to them who they can go to for advice on choosing classes and also to discuss their paperwork and documentation in order to receive appropriate services. Our question is, "Why can't this accommodation specialist be a school psychologist?"

While there is little research supporting the existence and possibilities of school psychologists' role in the university settings, there is a need. Research shows that the number of college students with learning and social-emotional disabilities is increasing (Sulkowski & Joyce, 2012). For many college students who have mental health problems, the onset of these issues occurs while they are attending college. In addition, there have been increasing numbers of violent attacks in colleges and universities. School psychologists have been trained to serve on multidisciplinary teams, diagnose disabilities, give counseling, implement crisis management plans, and consult with student's students' teachers while students are in grades K-12, and they can continue to fulfill these functions and more if they were used in postsecondary settings.

Utilizing University-Based School Psychologists

School psychologists are typically very familiar with the response-to-intervention service delivery model for assessing students for learning and behavior problems and working through tiers of interventions to best accommodate them within K-12 classrooms. According to Sulkowski and Joyce (2012), school psychologists in university settings can also use a three tiered service delivery model to address the needs of college-age students.

At the primary prevention level (Tier 1 universal interventions), Sulkowski and Joyce (2012) recommend usingaccommodations instead of interventions, including the implementation of college-wide prevention programs and crisis management teams. The authors suggest doing this by holding trainings for university staff on broad student issues such as effective teaching strategies, motivation, how to improve crisis teams, and what to do if a tragedy arises. At the secondary prevention level (Tier 2 targeted interventions), school psychologists could identify students with disabilities and find resources for them, such as OALA, that could coordinate varying levels of academic and emotional support within the university. Finally, at the tertiary level (Tier 3 intensive interventions), school psychologists could work individually with students with disabilities, such as by providing psychoeducational assessment, counseling, or academic support. Another compelling idea proposed by the authors was to have school psychologists supervise school psychology graduate students, providing these services at university clinics.

Joyce and Rossen (2006) list certain accommodations that are available to university students, depending on their unique circumstances, in the form of testing; classroom accommodations; instructional services; assistive technology; personal assistance services, such as note takers or scribes; administrative services; and additional services such as tutoring, counseling, and workshops, or mental health support groups on campus. University-based school psychologists can be instrumental in exploring these disabilities once students enroll for classes.

Students have an accommodation specialist assigned to them with whom they can discuss their paperwork and documentation in order to receive appropriate services. Our question is, "Why can't this accommodation specialist be a school psychologist?"

In her experience at OALA, Byrd has seen students with varying disabilities requiring a wide range of accommodations and services. It is also not uncommon for students to come in midway through the year desiring services or testing to receive services. Currently, there is not a staff member at the office whose role is to assess students. While students do have the option to seek outside testing or testing from the psychology department, there is no one to assess within the disability office. School psychologists could fulfill this function. In addition to conducting assessments at the disability offices on campuses, we also believe school psychologists could aid in obtaining documentation paperwork and transition plans from high school personnel. It would also be beneficial to have someone in the offices who is familiar with the protocol for implementing intervention plans in schools and who could make university students' documentation easy to read and implement in their courses. Furthermore, university-based school psychologists could become more proactive at the universal level of prevention and begin to offer more campus-wide training for both students and professors.

School psychologists' diverse skills are effectively used to benefit younger students in public school, private school, private practice, and other settings. While these same skills could greatly assist university students with needs, the limited data (including employment opportunities) support the conclusion that the majority of school psychologists working in university settings are faculty members. Perhaps bringing attention to this issue will promote awareness and encourage the use of school psychologists for direct interaction with university students in the office for disability services, counseling centers, or other clinics administered by universities.


Castillo-Thompson, S. (2011). Alternative careers & additional training for school psychologists. Retrieved from

Curtis, M. J., Grier, E. C., & Hunley, S. A. (2004). The changing face of school psychology: Trends in data projections for the future. School Psychology Review, 33, 49-66. doi:10.1002/pits.10186

Curtis, M. J., Hunley, S. A., & Grier, E. C. (2002). Relationships among the professional practices and demographic characteristics of school psychologists. School Psychology Review, 31, 30-42. doi:2002-02916-003

Joyce, D., & Rossen, E. (2006). Transitioning high school students with learning disabilities into postsecondary education: Assessment and accommodations. Communiqué, 35(3), 39-43.

Sulkowski, M., & Joyce, D. (2012). School psychology goes to college: The emerging role of school psychology in college communities. Psychology in the Schools, 48(8), 809-815.

Emily Byrd is a student in the school psychology program at Baylor University. Tamara Hodges, EdD, is a licensed psychologist and senior lecturer in the school psychology department at Baylor University