September/October 2014 Issue
Dollars and Sense for Social Work Education
Higher education of any kind is becoming a luxury fewer individuals can afford. But because the social work profession is notoriously undervalued and undercompensated, the means with which social work students can pay off their educational debt soon after graduation is shrinking fast. Loan forgiveness has come into focus lately as a strategy for student debt reduction, but the programs are often unfamiliar, can be confusing, and may be underutilized. While loan forgiveness is not to be dismissed as a method of decreasing student debt, it cannot be the sole means of escaping the financial burden of seeking educational advancement. There must be other more comprehensive solutions to this challenge.
Lynne Soine, DSW, MSW, LMSW, the author of our cover story, discusses some of those solutions, and perhaps the most compelling one that has come along in the last several years is the Social Work Reinvestment Initiative. A key element of the initiative is the The Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Investment Act. The goal of the act is to secure federal and state investments in professional social work to enhance societal well-being. The act focuses on fair market compensations, high social work education debt, translating social work research to practice, social work safety, the lack of diversity in the profession, and state level social work licensure.
According to Soine, strong advocacy is required if this act is to be passed. Practicing social workers, social work students, everyone in the social work community, and all those served by social workers can benefit from passage of this legislation. The bill has been reintroduced several times, most recently in the 113th Congress. “A comprehensive strategy to making the social work profession stronger, attractive to current and potential social workers, affordable, and satisfying will help ensure an adequate and well-prepared workforce to meet the future demand,” Soine says.
According to the US Bureau of Labor, the nationwide demand for social workers will increase 19% overall between 2012 to 2022, with projected increases of 27% in health care social workers; 23% in mental health and substance abuse social workers; 15% in child, family, and school social workers; and 9% in all other fields of social work practice. It is simply common sense to make social work education more affordable. Can we afford not to?