Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

School Selection Preferences of Public and Private University MSW Students: A Retrospective Study

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

School Selection Preferences of Public and Private University MSW Students: A Retrospective Study

Article excerpt

A convenience sample of MSW students responded to an Internet-based survey (N=2,289) retrospectively reporting their reasons for enrolling in a specific social work graduate program. Reponses indicate that MSW students who enroll in private graduate programs are younger and reported reputation-related and employment-related reasons for specific school selection more often than students enrolled in public schools. Students enrolled in public schools reported location-related masons as more important. Bifurcation of the applicant pool into private and public preference-groups presents a recruitment challenge. Other findings include that enrollment rates are Substantially higher than previously anticipated, which suggests that most applicants to graduate social work programs are likely to be admitted if they apply to multiple programs.


BETWEEN 1990 AND 2004 the number of Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)--accredited master's of social work programs increased from 99 to 186, an 87.9% increase (CSWE, 2007; Lennon, 1991). For this same period, MSW enrollment increased at a slower pace from 27,420 to 36,475 (CSWE, 2007; Lennon, 1991) or 33.0%. Despite significance variation in response rates in these CSWE reports, from 96.0% in 1990 to 84.4% in 2004, the number of enrolled MSW students per program seems to be declining from 287.5 in 1990 to 232.3 in 2004 (CSWE, 2007; Lennon, 1991). Some have interpreted this trend as increasing the competition between graduate programs for the best students (Keith-Spiegel & Wiederman, 2000), and others have suggested a curtailment in program growth as the most prudent' response (Karger & Stoesz, 2002). We reject the latter because the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2007) predicts that the social work labor market will grow faster than the U.S. labor force through 2014. We recognize the former as a potential concern for the profession.

This is not the first time that the profession has faced a potential imbalance between applicants and desired enrollment levels. Born and Carroll (1988) criticized the escalation of acceptance rates that accompanied a downturn in applications in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Hepler and Noble (1990) were quick to affirm the importance of maintaining admissions standards and reported that elevated admissions criteria at one school had only a minimal adverse impact on applications by the 2nd year of implementation. Both framed the graduate admission decision as an ethical issue in which the gatekeeping function of graduate admissions should prevail over enrollment goals. Most research dealing with admissions continues in this tradition.

Using Social Work Abstracts (key-word searches graduate + applica * or admission * or admit *) and Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC), articles were located that confirmed that the primary research emphasis in graduate admissions has been related to the attempt to identify and validate appropriate admission criteria. Academic criteria have focused on Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and undergraduate grade point averages, with both correlating with graduate academic performance (Dunlap, Henley, & Fraser, 1998; Thomas, McCleary, & Henry, 2004), but some raise questions concerning the validity of the GRE scores (Donahue & Thyer, 1992). Autobiographical features and personal intangibles are suggested as superior predictors of graduate performance (Fortune, 2003; Miller & Koerin, 1998), but unambiguous evidence to support this claim is also lacking (Dunlap et al., 1998; GlenMaye & Oakes, 2001).

As crucial as the maintenance of valid admission criteria is, it is not our purpose to extend this discussion. Rather, we purport to add to the ethical frame with which the gatekeeping function has been traditionally viewed by using a business perspective. From a business perspective, the imbalance between applicants and desired enrollment levels is a marketing dilemma that requires understanding the factors most relevant to the applicant in school selection. …

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