African Americans and Graduate Social Work Education: A Study of Career Choice Influences and Strategies to Reverse Enrollment Decline

Article excerpt

IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM, the social work profession faces a major challenge: attempting to enlarge and diversify the body of social workers who have graduate-level training. As will be documented, growth in the proportion of minority social workers with MSW degrees has remained relatively static. In the case of African Americans, the numbers have exhibited an alarming pattern of decline over the last 25 years (Hopps & Pinderhughes, 1987; Mullen et al., 1993). Because of its commitment to diversity, the social work profession--particularly those professionals in the higher education community--is obligated to take the necessary steps to reverse this pattern.

The key to addressing this problem is increased recruitment of African-American and other black students by graduate schools of social work. Recruitment efforts will be more successful, however, if more knowledge is available regarding why African Americans and other blacks enroll in graduate social work programs. The purpose of the research presented here was to determine some of the career choice influences that led a sample of African-American and other black MSW graduates to enroll in graduate social work programs. Several compelling questions relate to this issue. What forces influence students' choice to enroll in a graduate social work program? What was the role, if any, of their current employment situation immediately prior to their enrollment? What relationship does their undergraduate training have to their career interests and decisions? What do college-educated African Americans and other blacks find appealing about graduate social work education and why? Clear answers to these and related questions would greatly enhance the quality, logic, and outcomes of efforts to recruit African-American and other black students into graduate-level social work.

Contextualizing the Issue

Almost a decade ago, the social work profession issued a clarion call to increase the number of minority students enrolled in graduate programs in the United States (Berger, 1989). At the time, graduate schools were reversing a trend of declining full-time student enrollments and a startling drop in the number of MSW degrees awarded nationwide (Council on Social Work Education, 1996; Mullen et al., 1993). The alarm was sounded, however, because graduate school enrollment and graduation rates for minorities--particularly African-American and other black students--were in a steady downward spiral that did not mirror the positive enrollment trend of the dominant student body.

Recruitment of African-American/ black students is not a new problem and is not confined to graduate schools of social work (Boyd, 1974; Edgerton, 1968; Plaut, 1966). A sizable body of literature from different fields has documented the problem of minority student recruitment and retention, as well as strategies for addressing it. Disciplines contributing to this literature include allied health professions (Tysinger & Whiteside, 1987), medicine (Payne et al., 1986), engineering (Ugbolue, Whitley, & Stevens, 1987), marital and family therapy (Wilson & Stith, 1993), and psychology (Isaac, 1985). Efforts to enhance minority recruitment and retention that have been successful in non-social work fields over the years include preparatory programs for incoming students, community assistance in identifying potential candidates, and collaborative efforts by the professions, universities, and industries to address the problem of underrepresentation.

Minorities in Social Work and the Demographics of the New Millennium

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) defines minority students as African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, Chicano/Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and "other minority." They have a separate category for foreign students. These groupings are consistent with U.S. Census Bureau categories, although Chicano/Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are classified with all other Hispanic groups. …