The University of Georgia School of Social Work now offers the first fully online Master of Social Work degree in Georgia. All coursework, with the exception of a required field internship, can be taken online. Applications are being accepted for the inaugural cohort, scheduled to begin Fall 2020.
The Master of Social Work online program extends program access to people interested in earning an advanced degree in direct social work practice while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. The program also addresses the growing demand for social workers in rural and medically underserved areas.
“This fully online program should provide access and flexibility to earn an advanced degree in social work and eliminate barriers such as travel time to get to campus or not being able to access a campus because of distance,” said Javier F. Boyas, director of the social work master’s degree program. “The reality is that a lot of people in various parts of the state don’t currently have that option, and until now there was not a fully online program for social work at any public university in Georgia.”
A recent state of Georgia workforce report indicated that only 10% of social workers are practicing in medically underserved areas (MUAs). Of the 159 counties in Georgia, only 13 are not classified as MUAs. The growth in diverse and aging populations, particularly in rural communities and MUAs, has led to an increase in the demand for social workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 19.7% increase in social work jobs in Georgia through the year 2022, greater than the 11% growth in the social work profession nationally. Employment of healthcare social workers is projected to grow 17% nationally from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Boyas recognizes the clear demand for those rural communities that lack mental health services and who are impacted by various conditions outside of their control – areas where there are not a lot of outlets to address their everyday mental health concerns. “We hope this program that trains behavioral health, in micro practice in particular, will attract applicants from those areas and will benefit these medically underserved rural communities,” said Boyas.
The degree also develops skills that are transferable to any setting where relationship-building and improving well-being are important. “Educators have found it helps them prepare professionally to address the number of social stressors students come to school with and better serve their students,” said Boyas. “Since it is a terminal practice degree in our field, it is a tough degree to outgrow professionally, and can provide individuals with the upward mobility of an MBA.”
The degree also can provide professional development opportunities for spouses of military personnel who may be interested in working within military units or with veterans. Sara Skinner, one of the eight faculty members in the program, will be teaching the Introduction to Military Social Work course online. “It is very possible for military spouses to earn this degree as well as military service members in the National Guard or Reserves,” said Skinner. About one-fourth of veterans live in rural areas.
An important component of graduate social work education involves field education, or internships, at approved sites such as hospitals or social service agencies. Field experiences blend coursework with real-world experiences and help maximize growth and competency development. Students enrolled in the online program don’t have to be Georgia residents, but must be able to serve their field education practica in a Georgia agency.
The MSW faculty have been working closely with UGA’s Office of Online Learning to ensure that the methods they use for online delivery of content are high quality and engaging. The faculty will implement virtual office hours, similar to face-to-face office hours, to make sure they are available to their students for questions and support throughout the program. Program Director Boyas explained that “the MSW online faculty intend to engage with students in a way that captures the relationship that is experienced face-to-face.”
The School of Social Work is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the sole accrediting body for schools of social work in the United States.