Distance Education: A University's Pioneering Master of Social Work Program Partnership with the U.S. Army: Learn How a Partnership between Florida State and the US Army Planned for and Implemented Tailored MSW Degrees

Article excerpt

Introduction

Since 1918, public universities have assumed a central role in educating and equipping social workers with the initial qualifications needed to provide behavioral health support to military service members and their families (Freeman and Bicknell 2008). However, the physical and emotional toll that the War on Terror has taken on soldiers, coupled with the specific licensure requirements for practicing social work in the army, has created the need to develop competent and committed social workers well-versed in military culture. As a result, in 2006 the army and the army surgeon general decided to modify a process that had been in place for nearly a century by establishing a partnership with an accredited university that would allow the army to develop social workers from within the army system. Soon afterward, in June 2007, Colonel Elspeth Ritchie informed CBS News that the army planned to hire at least 25 percent more psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers (DeVries 2007).

The need for additional behavioral health providers was recognized following research that revealed that 17 (Hoge et al. 2004) to 20 percent (DeVries 2007) of the soldiers returning home were traumatized. Furthermore, the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research estimated that the military health care system would receive up to 300,000 new cases involving service members with mental health problems related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (Tanielian and Jaycox 2008). The RAND study also discovered that there was a severe shortage of behavioral health providers in the military system.

This article describes the relevance of an army-university partnership in view of the cultures of both public higher education and the military graduate education system. The article also outlines the planning model used to navigate through the various issues that should be considered when a university partners with a federal or military agency to deliver an educational program. The intention is to share the experience of forming a partnership with the army rather than to discuss how such a partnership should be formed.

The Culture of Higher Education: Economic Efficiency and Shrinking Resources

Today, many universities and colleges are feeling the effects of high inflation. Tuition costs and student fees are increasing, certain academic programs are faced with lower student enrollments and smaller budgets, federal and state appropriations are dwindling, and private giving is declining. These problems often result in faculty and staff cutbacks, the termination of academic programs, and even more tightly controlled university spending.

The situation is compounded by the higher expectations that today's students and employers have of what universities should offer them. Students are shopping not only for quality academic programs, excellent faculty, and university prestige, but also for convenience, affordability, and accessibility. Employers expect higher education institutions to produce graduates who have the necessary qualifications and skills to do their jobs. However, in certain industries and federal and state organizations, the required employee qualifications and skills are rapidly changing. As a result, employers have discovered that it is often less costly to train their employees on site using distance education than it is to send those employees to university campuses.

In this environment of economic change and higher costs, students and employers are making more sophisticated and informed choices about which educational models are most appropriate (Eoyang 2004). In response, higher education administrators are changing their view from the university as an ivory tower, in which students learn through the traditional face-to-face classroom lecture, to one of higher education as intellectual entrepreneurship.

This type of entrepreneurship is defined as bringing together academic disciplines and intellectuals from both on and off campus as well as the public and private sectors to promote the integration of intellectual energy and talent. …