Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

The Growth of Social Work Education Programs, 1985-1999: Its Impact on Economic and Educational Factors Related to the Profession of Social Work

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

The Growth of Social Work Education Programs, 1985-1999: Its Impact on Economic and Educational Factors Related to the Profession of Social Work

Article excerpt

SINCE 1985 THERE HAS BEEN a rapid growth of social work programs on all three levels--baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral. In 1985 there were 89 master's of social work programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and 351 baccalaureate programs, with 9 master's and 10 baccalaureate programs in candidacy for CSWE accreditation (Rubin, 1986). By 2001 that number had increased to 151 master's programs with 19 in candidacy (CSWE, 2002b) and 432 baccalaureate programs with 28 in candidacy (CSWE, 2002a). Replicating this trend, the number of doctoral programs grew from 47 in 1985 to 66 in 2001, with 4 programs in development (Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, 2001; Rubin, 1986). Much of the growth in social work programs was based on a similar assumption to that mistakenly applied by failed dot-com companies: "If you build it, they will come." Overall, this growth has produced unmistakable effects on the human services labor market and social work pedagogy. Replicating the dot-com financial bubble, the rapid expansion of social work programs may well be flooding the human service labor market in many parts of the country.

The Growth of Baccalaureate Programs

The statistics in this section on social work education programs were culled from CSWE's annual request and reporting of program information nationally. Statistics cited may vary among this and other sections because, in any given year, not all schools of social work respond to CSWE's request. However, response rates are typically in the >90% range, so most of the inferences drawn from CSWE data will have a high degree of validity.

Of the 351 CSWE-accredited baccalaureate programs in 1985, 54 were housed in schools or departments that also offered a master's degree (Rubin, 1986). By 2001 there were 432 baccalaureate programs, a 23% increase from 1985 (CSWE, 2002b; Rubin, 1986). There were 23,533 full-time baccalaureate students in 1985; by 1999 that number rose to 37,557, a 60% increase. In 1985, 6,347 bachelor's degrees were awarded; by 1999 that had more than doubled to 12,798 (Lennon, 2001; Rubin, 1986; see Figure 1). Most of the growth in baccalaureate programs occurred in the South and the Midwest (see Table 1). For example, of the 28 baccalaureate programs that were in candidacy in September 2001, 14 were in Southern states and 5 were in Midwestern states (CSWE, 2002b).


The number of social work programs offering both master's and bachelor's degrees rose by 90% (from 52 to 99) from 1985 to 1999. Concurrently, faculty in these joint programs rose by 84% (from 1,768 to 3,259; Lennon, 2001; Rubin, 1986). In comparison, the number of baccalaureate-only programs grew by 22% (from 248 to 304 programs) from 1985 to 1991, with a 38% growth in the number of faculty. From 1985 to 1991 faculty growth outstripped program growth for the baccalaureate-only programs while program growth outstripped faculty growth in the joint degree programs. In 1999, the 445 CSWE-accredited baccalaureate and master's programs employed 6,943 faculty, of which roughly 28% (1,923) taught in master's-only programs while the remaining 70% taught in either a joint degree or a baccalaureate-only program (Lennon, 2001).

Baccalaureate programs have developed larger student bodies. In 1985, CSWE reported that 32% (n=94) had fewer than 25 students while 63% (n=185) had less than 50. By 1999, CSWE reported that only 18% (n=67) of baccalaureate programs had fewer than 25 students, and 45% (n=170) had under 50. The majority of the growth in baccalaureate programs occurred in schools with enrollments between 75 and 150 students (Lennon, 2001; Rubin, 1986).

As illustrated in Figure 1 and Table 1, the number of baccalaureate programs and faculty grew dramatically from 1985 to 2001, with a trajectory continuing upward. Conversely, baccalaureate student enrollment has remained relatively stagnant since 1993. …

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