Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

One School's Experience in Reconceptualizing Part-Time Doctoral Education in Social Work

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

One School's Experience in Reconceptualizing Part-Time Doctoral Education in Social Work

Article excerpt

THERE HAS BEEN A SIGNIFICANT GROWTH in the number of doctoral programs in social work in the United States over the past 2 decades and in the number of students enrolled in such programs. In 1977, there were 35 doctoral programs in social work, which enrolled a total of 866 students (Wittman, 1979). The growth in the number of doctoral programs continued over the next 2 decades, such that by 1999, there were 62 doctoral programs in social work which enrolled a total of 1,953 students (Lennon, 2001). Thus, during this 2-decade period (1977-1999) the number of students in social work enrolled in doctoral programs increased by 126%. However, the percentage of graduates increased by only 50%, growing from 178 graduates in 1977 to 267 graduates in 1999.

The lag in the increase of doctoral program graduates can be explained, in part, by an increase in the percentage of such students pursuing their doctoral education on a part-time basis. Data compiled by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) indicate that beginning in 1984, a significant percentage of doctoral students were part-time students. This percentage ranged from 42% to 53% of enrolled doctoral students during the 1990s. Data pertaining to students enrolled in 2000, separated for the first time by students taking coursework or in the dissertation stage, indicate that 36% of all doctoral students were taking coursework on a part-time basis, while 46% of students who had completed coursework were part-time students (Lennon, 2001).

The quality of doctoral programs in social work in the United States has been an area of concern and focus of the Group for the Advancement of Social Work Education and individual social work educators for quite some time (Briar, 1982; Holland, Austin, Allen-Meares, & Garvin, 1991; Khinduka, 2002; Proctor & Snowden, 1991; Reisch, 2002; Thyer & Wilson, 2001; Wittman, 1979). In particular, questions have been raised by some that part-time doctoral education in social work is not compatible with quality in doctoral education (Austin, 1999; Proctor & Snowden, 1991; Ross-Sheriff & Huber, 2001), while others have argued for the value of part-time programs or the need to restructure the formats for doctoral education in social work (Reisch, 2002; Thyer & Wilson, 2001; Vinton & Harrison, 2001).

Arguments against part-time doctoral education in social work include: greater length of time for students to complete their degree; lack of interaction of part-time students with other doctoral students thus limiting the opportunity for peer learning (which is believed to be a critical element of doctoral education); lack of interaction with faculty outside the classroom; lack of opportunity to attend research seminars and presentations outside of the classroom; lack of development of students into research scholars and lack of socialization into scholarship; and lack of socialization into the profession (Austin, 1999; Proctor & Snowden, 1991). As can be seen, a major cross-cutting theme of the above limitations of part-time doctoral education is the greatly reduced opportunities for learning outside the classroom from peers, faculty, and guest lecturers. These limitations reflect the fact that many part-time doctoral students in social work have full-time employment outside the university preventing them from taking advantage of educational opportunities outside of the classroom setting.

Arguments in favor of part-time doctoral Education in social work have included: increasing opportunities to attract students who otherwise would be unable to afford to pursue a full-time doctoral education, namely, older, employed, more experienced social work professionals; helping ensure a sufficient number of doctoral students by doctoral programs; helping to make doctoral education more affordable, both for students as well as for doctoral programs; and providing an alternative model for re-structuring doctoral programs (Reisch, 2002; Thyer & Wilson, 2001; Vinton & Harrison, 2001). …

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