Beginning next year, Misericordia University’s long-standing social work department will offer a new accelerated degree program to earn a Bachelor’s of Social Work to offer flexibility and open doors for students to earn Master’s degrees.
The new program began in response to feedback from students and alumni, most specifically adult learners. Committing to a regular social work degree program was difficult for many adult learners, due to other commitments such as families and work. Some adult learners left the program due to their time limitations, although they wanted to continue. Faculty also received feedback from alumni who wished the program had an online option when they attended.
“I think a lot of people were very supportive [of the new program] and wanted it to work. It just took a lot of planning – what are the best way to offer these courses, what are some things we need to consider,” said Susan McDonald, MSW, Ph.D., LCW, Chair of the Social Work Department.
Social work faculty and university staffers met to figure out how they could meet the needs of nontraditional students. Over time – roughly over a year’s span – they reached a conclusion to offer a “hybrid” class model. In this model, students take the majority of classes online, while also scheduling to meet three times during each semester and have one-on-one time with faculty. Students will also have access to the same resources that other students have, such as eligibility for university scholarships, government aid, qualifying participation in the Women With Children program, and more.
The program also follows the liberal arts model of 124 credits, which include major classes, core classes, and electives. Students may take cores and electives remotely as well, in Expressway online classes. Because the university is already an accredited institution for social work degrees, no special certification was needed to create this online version, as the classes are exactly the same as those traditional students take.
While the program will technically begin in January 2018, the program’s first cohort will begin in fall 2018. Students who are part of the program during spring semester of 2018 will take electives and core classes, then begin social work classes that fall. The program is expected to draw 15 students in the first cohort.
This accelerated program is unique to the Northeast Pennsylvania area. The majority of schools offer only traditional, on campus programs, that do not have hybrid or online class model alternatives. McDonald believes in the usefulness of this unique program model, and said it has the potential to become popular among other programs.
“I think more and more students have to work in order to help pay some of their education costs, so I think more and more students are looking for alternative ways to get their degrees. So, I think this is a very nice model,” McDonald said.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, employment for social workers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. There are a wide range of areas in which social work graduates can work, from mental health service and school social workers, medical social workers, hospice workers, child service employees, and more.
In addition, the accelerated program also puts social work graduates on an easier path to obtaining their Master’s degrees than ever before. Earlier this year, Misericordia signed an articulation agreement with Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. to enable social work bachelor’s degree graduates to apply to Marywood’s Master’s of Social Work with advanced standing. Marywood will accept 21 of the gradates’ existing credits to put towards the Master’s degree. An MSW degree requires 60 credits, so students would only need to obtain an additional 39 credits to acquire their degrees when accepted with advanced standing.
Students planning to enroll in the accelerated social work program will have ample opportunity to participate in and encapsulate Misericordia’s core values. Misericordia has been preparing social workers with its program since 1939, and the accelerated program is a natural progression to meet the ever-changing needs of students. While this program aims to help make an undergraduate social work degree more attainable, these graduates will also be giving back to their communities and fields in countless ways for the rest of their careers, McDonald said.
“Social justice, integrity, competence, the importance of human relationships – those all go with hospitality with Misericordia’s charisms,” McDonald said.