Social Work Practice in Higher Education: Two Case Studies

By Vonk, M. Elizabeth; Markward, Martha M. et al. | Journal of Social Work Education, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Social Work Practice in Higher Education: Two Case Studies


Vonk, M. Elizabeth, Markward, Martha M., Arnold, Elizabeth, Journal of Social Work Education


AT A TIME WHEN the student population in many colleges and universities is becoming more diverse, social workers are challenged to consider the possibilities of practice in these settings. While useful models of practice have been identified for elementary and secondary educational settings, very little is known about social work practice in colleges and universities. The two case studies of social work practice in higher education presented here provide insight into the models of practice that social workers utilize in postsecondary educational settings.

Conceptual Framework

Johnson (1972) proposed that a model is a "representation or statement of essential facts, central ideas and concepts and their interrelationships with the domain established for the expository model" (pp. 95-96). Similarly, Reid and Epstein (1992) proposed that a model is "a coherent set of directives which state how a given kind of treatment is to be carried out" (pp. 7-8). Relative to these propositions, Allen-Meares, Washington, and Welsh (1996) also proposed that models are developed to fit a particular practice need and designed within the context of particular environmental conditions.

This brings into question how one might compare the directives for social work practice in various educational settings, given differing practice needs in particular settings. In answering this question, Kettner (1975) identified components that have utility in comparing models of practice. Among those components are theoretical underpinnings, levels of intervention, target groups/systems, roles/responsibilities of the worker, goals/objectives, methods of assessment, and strategies of intervention used.

Alderson (1972) used similar components to compare models of social work practice in elementary and secondary education, identifying the following four models of practice: traditional clinical, school change, community school, and social interaction. The models differ in terms of focus, goals, target system, view of sources of difficulty, worker tasks/ activities/roles, and conceptual perspective on practice. Costin (1975) also identified the school-community-pupil model from a demonstration project in Illinois. It is important to note that practitioners may perform similar tasks to a greater or lesser degree in each of these models. For example, in using the traditional clinical, school change, community school, and social interaction models of practice, practitioners focus respectively on the pupil, school milieu, a disenfranchised community or neighborhood, and the reciprocal interactions between students and school. The social worker employing the traditional clinical model, therefore, will likely spend considerable time in casework activities. In contrast, a social worker employing Costin's school-community-pupil model will likely spend considerable time assessing systems to identify where intervention will benefit the most students.

In order to discern how these models might fit social work practice in higher education, one must first understand the setting. A great deal of information is available that describes the historical development, professional make-up, clientele, and provision of services in college and university counseling centers.

Background and Rationale

The historical development of higher education counseling centers has been divided into four periods (Heppner & Neal, 1983). Before 1945, counseling duties were shared by an assortment of college personnel, including deans, advisors, and faculty members. It was not until the period of 1945-1955 that the establishment of counseling centers began to emerge, and that counseling began to be seen as separate from the area of student personnel. During this time, the emphasis was on vocational-educational counseling, due in part to funding from, and needs of, the Veterans Administration after World War II. Between the years of 1955-1970, counseling centers expanded both in numbers and in terms of the roles that they carried out.

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