There was a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about the serious problem at the University of Southern California School of Social Work (USC) which started their online MSW program in 2009. In 2013 CSWA wrote a position paper about the ways we thought this online program could undermine the interpersonal understanding and ability to connect to others that are necessary components of becoming a competent clinical social worker. You can find this paper on the website at https://clinicalsocialwork.wildapricot.org/Resources/Documents/CSWA%20-%20Position%20Paper%20-%20Online%20MSW%20Programs%20-%209-13-1.pdf .
Our focus was on the clinical skills that would be lost if there is not the direct contact with professors, supervisors, and patients that many online MSW programs minimize or eliminate. As these programs have proliferated, there are two other issues which we touched on in our paper – the cost of these programs, around $90,000 at USC, and the way that the marketing of this program was done by a for-profit marketing firm, 2U, which had to meet certain quotas according to their contract with USC.
Over the past 6 years, the problems with the way that the USC School of Social Work has evolved, and especially the way that 2U allowed students to enter the program who were not qualified to do so, has created a maelstrom of problems. In the past week, two articles have been written about these problems in the Los Angeles Times, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-usc-social-work-20190606-story.html,and the New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/03/upshot/student-debt-big-culprit-graduate-school.html.
CSWA encourages its members to educate themselves about the way that clinical social work is being endangered by the general lack of adequate training in online programs, as well as the stifling debt that many students accumulate. While some students think that they have gotten the training they need (see comments in these articles), U.S.News and World Report gave USC School of Social Work a rating of the 25thbest school in 2018, down from its usual place in the top ten schools.
The Council of Social Work Education, which accredits all MSW programs, has endorsed the use of online MSW programs without reservation,if they conform to the coursework standards of brick and mortar programs. This was a mistake in the opinion of CSWA for the reasons stated above and in our Paper.We encourage members to let their schools know, as alumnae, that the possible diminished training of MSWs using online courses, and the staggering debt accrued, are bad for our profession and bad for the well-being of future clinical social workers.
The majority of schools of social work now have online MSW programs as an option. It is time to take a stand on the harm this may do to the clinical social work profession.
Laura Groshong, LICSW, Director, Policy and Practice
Clinical Social Work Association
The National Voice of Clinical Social Work