UK Social Work Significantly Increases Reach, Enrollment, Impact

Photos for Winter Session marketing material on October 21, 2020. Photo by Pete Comparoni | UKphoto

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This article was originally published in UKNow.

From the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic to the movement against social injustice — societal challenges have forced us to take a closer look at disparities across the country.

How do we — as a society — tackle these unprecedented challenges?

The answer isn’t simple, but the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky is proving they are part of the solution.

“Make no mistake, social workers and the work they do are vital to a well-functioning society,” Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, said. “The college has really focused on ways to support social workers by expanding our reach.”

That reach — and impact — has been overwhelmingly positive.

In 2020, students in CoSW’s graduate program scored more than 11 points above the national average on the social work licensing exam. At the clinical level, graduates scored 12 points above the national average.

Additionally, from Spring 2019 to Spring 2021, college enrollment has grown an impressive 134% — the highest growth rate at the university. The CoSW already has another record enrollment for Fall 2021. Currently, the college has students from 48 states, and several other countries and U.S. territories enrolled in its programs.

“The fact that our college has been able to strategically grow, while maintaining high social work licensing pass rates, is really a testament to the amazing work of our faculty, staff and students,” Miller said.

The increase in enrollment, coupled with exceptionally high licensing pass rates, bodes well for the Commonwealth — where the need for trained social workers is critical.

Growing numbers of child abuse and neglect cases, the devastating opioid epidemic, complex mental health issues and the long-term effects of COVID-19 necessitate the need for social work practitioners. The hope is, behind every person or community going through a difficult challenge, a social worker is there to help address it.

“Now, there is a heightened need for social workers who are trained to explore and implement innovative solutions to society’s most pressing challenges,” Miller explained. “Extending the accessibility of our degree offerings, while maintaining the highest standards in social work education, is a recognition that we are training individuals to positively impact individuals, groups and communities. That is not a responsibility we will ever take lightly.” 

To help students become well-rounded practitioners, the CoSW has added a wide array of degree paths and certificates, which are detailed below.

Online Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW)

The BASW program is designed for anyone who is passionate about being a catalyst for change. Students will gain the knowledge and skills needed for careers in social work and social justice, with curriculum spanning advocacy, crisis intervention, social policies and more. The program offers a unique lens through which to view individuals, families, communities and society at large.

“The social work profession has a rich tradition of emphasizing the value of individuals’ experiences and of understanding the complexities of inequality,” Diane Loeffler, director of undergraduate studies, explained. “Our fully online undergraduate program option will prepare students to practice social work in a wide array of settings, with an emphasis on social justice.”

With the addition of the online undergraduate program, the CoSW has created an online pathway for motivated students to obtain a bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees online.

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW):

The first of its kind in the state, the program successfully prepares students for advanced social work practice, clinical research, administrative leadership and executive roles.

In a continued effort to make UK programs accessible and attainable, the DSW is fully online and can be completed in two years (full time). There are also part-time options available.

“This program was conceptualized with practitioners in mind,” Natalie Pope, director of CoSW doctoral programs, said. “Our college has made significant investments in educational technology — which ensures that we can offer an academically rigorous educational experience in a flexible and efficient format.”

Ultimately, graduates of the program will be positioned to advance their careers, become transformational leaders and join the greater conversation about creating a stronger society. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that from 2016 to 2026 the number of social workers will increase by 16% — more than double the growth rate projected for all occupations.

Miller hopes the CoSW’s proactive approach will continue to transform communities and the lives of people who call those communities’ home.

“We know the power of social work in addressing the needs of individuals, families and communities,” he said. “Today, and every day moving forward, we seek to actualize our commitment to the well-being of individuals in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond.”

To learn more about CoSW programs, you can visit the college website.

For over 85 years, the College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky has been a leader in education. Our mission is clear: Through rigorous research, excellence in instruction, and steadfast service, the CoSW works to improve the human condition. Always, in all ways.

As the state’s flagship university, our mission is actualized through our deeds. Our faculty are renowned academicians dedicated to fostering the development of high-quality practitioners and researchers. As a college, we promote community and individual well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital community engagement. We are committed to the people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world.