Board approves social work masters

Joe Lord

For most Kentuckians, there are three possible locations to earn a master of social work degree, a status mandated for some employed by state agencies.

For Westerners, there are none.

But that may soon change.

The university will create a master of social work program to help fill a void of social workers in western Kentucky.

The Board of Regents approved the plan Friday at its quarterly meeting in Elizabethtown.

The program must be approved by the Council on Post-Secondary Education before it can officially start in fall 2003, Provost Barbara Burch said. Such approval may come as early as next week.

About 350 potential students have asked for applications, program director Suzie Cashwell said. There will be 30 to 45 positions available in the program’s first year.

By fall 2005, the program may have about 108 positions available, she said. The program will require 60 credit hours.

“We’ll have a fully functioning MSW program in about a year,” Cashwell said.

She said new faculty will be hired for the program.

Mike Jennings, spokesman for the state Cabinet for Children and Families, said caseworkers must have master’s degrees to hold supervisory positions in fields such as child protection and foster care.

No schools have master of social work programs in western Kentucky, Jennings said. Because of that, the cabinet has to rely on people with such degrees outside of the agency to review case work.

“Obviously, that’s a Band-Aid approach,” he said.

The cabinet would prefer to have their own employees doing such work, Jennings said.

Eight cabinet employees have master of social work degrees in the Barren River Service Region, which includes Bowling Green, Jennings said. To meet the cabinet’s accreditation requirements, the region needs 17 more employees who have a master of social work degree.

Three colleges in Kentucky have master of social work programs — the University of Louisville, the University of Kentucky and Spalding University in Louisville.

To earn a master of social work degree, students in Western Kentucky must travel to a campus with such a program, Jennings said. While those schools often offer weekend classes, those programs are still inconvenient for social workers with families.

In response, many social workers choose not to seek advanced degrees, he said.

Master of social work classes will mostly be offered online, at night or on weekends, Cashwell said. All classes will be Web-enhanced.

Cashwell said the program will be geared toward social work in rural settings and will address the needs of the region, such as child welfare, nursing homes and mental health.

Western began working toward creating such a program more than two years ago, Burch said. It was originally conceived as a joint venture with Murray State.

About a year ago, Murray dropped out because it lacked faculty to teach in the program, Burch said. The possibility still exists for cooperation between Kentucky’s two most western universities.

Other regents business

•Approved the creation of the Division of Extended Learning and Outreach.

•Approved the purchase of about 700 acres of land along the Green River through a grant from the Kentucky Land Heritage Conservation Fund Board. Land will be used as a biological preserve.

•Authorized a contract to sell 4.5 acres of land currently used by the Applied Physics Institute to Hogan Real Estate, LLC.

Reach Joseph Lord at [email protected]