The University of Arkansas - Fort Smith social work program has earned initial accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Beyond recognizing the program and its faculty as exceptional in educating future social workers, the accreditation endows students with a necessary credential to secure careers as licensed social workers. Only graduates of CSWE-accredited degree programs may fill positions as social workers in health care, mental health, non-profit and community agencies. The CSWE Commission on Accreditation is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the United States.
"With this accreditation, the Bachelor of Social Work degree moves beyond an academic degree and opens the door for our students to gain meaningful employment, apply for state licensure and pursue accelerated graduate programs," said program director Vaughn DeCoster, Ph.D., LCSW, ACSW. Earning a Bachelor of Social Work with CSWE accreditation also allows students to earn their Master of Social Work in one year rather than two, should they decide to pursue this advanced degree.
The social work program at UAFS began as a minor, introducing students to social work knowledge, values, and skills to generate positive individual and social change before developing into a full four-year degree program and applying for accreditation through CSWE.
“Achieving initial accreditation is a formidable task, and the dedication, hard work and academic excellence of our faculty are evident in their success,” said Dr. Terisa Riley, UAFS chancellor. “Our students can be confident that they are receiving the very best instruction from the finest faculty and know that they will graduate immediately ready to enter the professional sector or the highest caliber graduate programs.”
Through the persistence of Assistant Professors Ila DeBose and Renee Gebhart and Interim Director Dr. Joe Schriver, the university's accreditation efforts continued through 2018. That summer Dr. Vaughn DeCoster returned to the River Valley from Evansville, Indiana, and began working with the dedicated social work team and Dr. Paul Hankins, dean of the UAFS College of Communication, Languages, Arts and Social Sciences.
Facilitating the final year of accreditation, DeCoster, DeBose, and Gebhart crafted the three-volume, 563-page program self-study detailing the UAFS social work degree, program policies and student outcomes. Students and field instructors assisted as well, completing multiple CSWE required program evaluations and instruments.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the social work field is expected to increase by nearly 110,000 jobs from 2016 to 2026, more than doubling the national projected employment growth overall.
In addition to the growing employment opportunity nationwide, the Arkansas River Valley has a critical need for social workers, said DeCoster.
"The Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board reports that only 3 percent of the state's licensed social workers reside in the River Valley. That's only 57 BSW and MSW providers to serve the second-largest community in Arkansas and a community that has tremendous needs, at that,” said DeCoster
Whether reaching out to children in crisis, immigrant populations, aging adults, underemployed, impoverished communities or communities affected by substance abuse, social workers embolden the people they serve to build on their strengths and advance their lives.
"Social workers are trained to advocate for others, to empower, to build on their strengths, to embrace diversity and differences of all kind and to promote resilience," DeCoster said.
UAFS social work students have already had an impact on the Arkansas River Valley and Eastern Oklahoma communities. In 2019 29 social work students interned in local agencies, providing 5,800 hours of volunteer services to the region. At present, the program anticipates 50 student interns in 2020. UAFS social work faculty have more than 50 years of combined direct practice experience in mental health, health, social service, and military settings. They all maintain Arkansas licensure as certified social work practitioners (LCSW).
The courses are offered in small classes to promote individualized learning, and social work candidates progress through the degree plan as a cohort to create a community for learning and support.
Once students are accepted into the two-year professional program, they are guaranteed a seat in all advanced courses, designed with their learning and personal needs in mind. Hybrid courses are available for students who cannot attend class on campus daily, and the program utilizes the Cengage Unlimited digital textbook program to reduce textbook costs significantly.
To learn more about the program, go to academics.uafs.edu/majors-minors/social-work.