The Values of the Research University Should Be Maximized to Strengthen Social Work Education

By Cowger, Charles D. | Journal of Social Work Education, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

The Values of the Research University Should Be Maximized to Strengthen Social Work Education


Cowger, Charles D., Journal of Social Work Education


THE HIGHER EDUCATION SETTING for professional social work education has changed tremendously since its establishment in American universities in the early 20th century. Until relatively recently, social work education was almost exclusively lodged in research universities. (1) However, the substantial growth of programs over the last 30 years has occurred outside research university settings, and the research university is no longer the primary host for professional social work education. Concomitantly the schools of social work lodged in research universities now have considerably less influence and play a much smaller role in social work professional education.

The future of social work education in research universities will be largely determined by the interaction and political processes that evolve from the relationships between the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), schools of social work, and research universities. The dynamics of this interaction, to a large degree, have lacked public discussion and self-consciousness. This article argues that the values of the research university should not have a decreasing emphasis in social work education equivalent to its decreasing proportional numerical status. Indeed, it is argued that the distinctive values of the research university are particularly good for social work education, the profession, and our clients. Although schools in research settings and those in other settings have more similarities than differences, the diverse settings found in social work education reflect distinctive cultures, impinging environments, stakeholders, and varied roles. This diversity is and will continue to be a strength if it is not overcome with divisiveness. Recognizing, articulating, understanding, and building on the strengths of our varied settings should strengthen our profession.

The Changing Setting of Social Work Education

The members of the first social work professional education association, the Association of Training Schools for Professional Social Work (later to become the American Association of Schools of Social Work), were, with few exceptions, lodged in universities that were members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), an organization of premier American universities. In like manner, the 11 state universities that formed the National Association of Schools of Social Administration to promote undergraduate education in 1942 were leading state universities, all members of AAU and all classified today as Doctoral/Research Universities--Extensive. Forty-six of the 52 programs (88%) that were accredited by CSWE at the time of its formation in 1952 (and are still accredited by CSWE) were lodged in what are today designated as Carnegie Doctoral/Research Universities--Extensive (CSWE, 2001). (2)

The growth of BSW and MSW social work programs over the past 50 years has occurred largely in settings other than research universities. Since 1952, there are 25 additional MSW programs in research universities and an additional 69 in other settings, so that now only 48% of the graduate programs reside in research universities. There are currently 26 MSW programs in candidacy, none in research university settings. In 1975, 2 years after CSWE began the process of accrediting BSW programs, there were 141 accredited BSW programs, 34 (24%) of which were in research universities. Since that time 292 more BSW programs have been accredited with only 6 of them in research universities. Now, out of 433 accredited BSW programs 40 (9%) are in research universities. Of the 20 BSW programs in candidacy, none reside in research universities.

Of the 61 AAU universities in the United States, 31 have schools of social work. Of the 151 universities designated as Doctoral/Research Universities-Extensive, 70 have schools of social work. The typical organizational structure for these schools is one of "free standing" with units headed by a dean. …

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