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School of Social Work graduates first on-line Masters candidates

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
University News Service
August 1, 2008


The Texas State University-San Marcos School of Social Work will graduate on Aug. 8 its first cohort of students earning the Master of Social Work (MSW) degree through an innovative online effort.

This on-line MSW, the first complete on-line MSW degree offering in the nation, is aimed at qualified Child Protective Service (CPS) workers in rural areas of Texas who want to earn the MSW on a part-time basis while maintaining their CPS employment.

This degree program, which uses state-of-the art web-based technology, is offered through the Texas State School of Social Work, a fully-accredited school with a mission of preparing professionals for work in public agencies, said Mary Jo Garcia Biggs, a professor in the School of Social work. The School of Social Work has a distinguished record of educating child welfare practitioners, particularly for practice in rural areas.

The current web-based MSW effort is based on the School of Social Work MSW program at University of Houston-Victoria, which graduated two cohorts of MSWs via a combination of in-person and electronically transmitted instruction. The current MSW class of 24 who have earned their degrees on-line were supported with full scholarships through a grant, the Children’s Bureau Training for Effective Child Welfare Practice in Rural Communities, Garcia Biggs said.

Students in this on-line MSW program reported that, without this project, they would not have been able to pursue the graduate degree.

“They live in communities and rural areas which are remote from universities offering the MSW. Since they have jobs and family or community commitments in their home towns, relocating or commuting to a distance university was impossible,” said Garcia Biggs. “One student who began her graduate studies in an on-campus program, for instance, had a child with physical problems who needed her full-time care at home. Without the Texas State on-line MSW degree program, this mother could not have continued to pursue her dream of obtaining graduate education while still caring for her child.

“Another student, a single mother, reported that this program, with its grant support for tuition and books, made it financially possible for her to pursue the MSW degree,” she said. “Many of the students in this program are the first in their families to attend college. Since a number of the Social Work faculty are also first-generation college students, they are alert to the special issues facing first-generation students.”

The program’s students have been able to continue to serve their communities as child welfare workers while continuing their studies, Garcia Biggs said. In fact, most of the students call themselves “lifers” with Child Protective Services; they want to continue serving the children and families of their communities and rural areas. Since the program’s curriculum has been focused on the needs of rural child welfare workers, students have been able to learn information and skills which is relevant to improving social services in their communities.

The program students are indeed diverse. Ranging in age from 24-51, they are African-American, Hispanic, and Anglo-American. Their personal interests are wide-ranging: one raises mules; one has written successful screen plays; one ministers at a small rural church; and one is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Another student lives in a 1950’s Sears Kit Home, while another is a U.S. Army veteran of Desert Storm. Two students are in military families currently living in Europe.

The Texas State on-line MSW degree project has taken education to students in their home communities, focusing on these goals:

  1. Increase the number of child welfare workers in rural Texas who hold the MSW degree, with specific education in rural child welfare issues and practice skills.
  2. Increase pre-service and in-service training content on effective rural child welfare practice.
  3. Develop a model Master of Social Work curriculum that is directly relevant to effective child welfare practice in rural communities.
  4. Develop and maintain service planning partnerships between the University, the local child welfare agencies, and rural community participants.

The School of Social Work is committed to continuing this on-line MSW degree program. Faculty have incorporated new technological advances that allow students to more easily and effectively access curriculum, while also engaging with other students via the web. The graduating students have effectively “marketed” this opportunity to other rural citizens, and the School is initiating another cohort of on-line students this fall.

For more information, please contact Dorinda Noble at dn12@txstate.edu or Mary Jo Garcia Biggs at mb56@txstate.edu.