Outcomes of Social Work Education: The Case for Social Work Self-Efficacy

Article excerpt

HAS SOCIAL WORK EDUCATION been effective at promoting the development of specific practice skills? The usual methods of outcome assessment--licensing examination results, alumni and student surveys, and within-program student performance measures such as grades received and rates of program completion--all have well-known drawbacks. This article describes a new measure, the Social Work Self-Efficacy scale, designed to assess a key aspect of student performance. We will show how the scale can demonstrate positive change in MSW students from program entry to the point of graduation.


Competence has been a key concept in the literature on the education of adults and is central to many theories of human behavior. Social Cognitive Theory (SCT) is an example in this general area of theory (Bandura, 1977, 1982, 1986, 1995, 1997a; Maddux, 1995). SCT emphasizes the construct of self-efficacy:

   Among the mechanisms of agency, none is more pervasive than beliefs of
   personal efficacy. Unless people believe they can produce desired effects
   by their actions, they have little incentive to act.... People guide their
   lives by their beliefs of personal efficacy. Perceived self-efficacy refers
   to beliefs in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of
   action required to produce given attainments.... People's beliefs in their
   efficacy have diverse effects. Such beliefs influence the courses of action
   people choose to pursue, how much effort they put forth in given endeavors,
   how long they will persevere in the face of obstacles and failures, their
   resilience to adversity, whether their thought patterns are self-hindering
   or self-aiding, how much stress and depression they experience in coping
   with taxing environmental demands, and the level of accomplishments they
   realize. (Bandura, 1997a, pp. 2-3)

Self-efficacy is a particular kind of assessment, and as such, is related to self-awareness, which has been a long-standing goal of social work education. Self-efficacy is more than a self-perception of competency. It is an individual's assessment of his or her confidence in their ability execute specific skills in a particular set of circumstances and thereby achieve a successful outcome (Bandura, 1986). Self-efficacy has been shown to be predictive of future behaviors (e.g., Ewart, 1995; Holden, 1991; Holden, Moncher, Schinke, & Barker, 1990; O'Leary, 1985; Zimmerman, 1995). Holden's (1991) meta-analysis examined the relationship between self-efficacy ratings and subsequent health-related performance attainments (n=56 studies, published 1981-1989) and found an overall effect size of r=.26 (most conservative computational method). Research on self-efficacy is not restricted to health-related behaviors. In terms of career- related self-efficacy, Hackett and Betz (1995) note that:

   [t]here are a number of conclusions that can be confidently drawn from the
   literature on the career self-efficacy of youth. Overall, it appears that
   career self-efficacy is strongly predictive of a wide range of
   career-related behaviors from early high school through college and beyond.
   (p. 247)

The construct is also appearing regularly in the social work literature, although it has not yet been widely used to assess the outcomes of social work education itself (e.g., Alter, 1996; Barber & Crisp, 1995; Dorfman, Holmes, & Berlin, 1996; El-Bassel et al., 1995; Evans, 1992; Frans, 1993; Furstenberg & Rounds, 1995; Gutierrez, 1990; Icard, Schilling, & El-Bassel, 1995; Jackson, 2000; Levy & Bavendam, 1995; Mancoske, Standifer, & Cauley, 1994; Montcalm, 1999; O'Connor & Korr, 1996; Parsons, East, & Boesen, 1994; Richan, 1994; Roffman et al., 1997; Rose, 1994; Rounds, Galinsky, & Despard, 1995; Shera, 1994). However, self-efficacy has been used in higher education in the assessment of specific skill development with rehabilitation (e. …