A recent report from the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education has identified Spalding University’s Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW) program as a high-achieving academic program that prepares underrepresented minority (URM) students for high-demand occupations with earnings that match or exceed their peers.  Based on analysis of statewide data, Spalding’s BSSW program was one of five programs with the highest ratios of Bachelor’s-level URM to non-URM post-graduation wages.

The report, “Analysis on Workforce Preparedness and Early Career Outcomes for Underrepresented Minority and Low-Income Status Students in Kentucky,” identified 29 baccalaureate, associate and certificate/diploma degree programs that prepare URM and low-income students for successful careers with equitable earnings.

“This honor really speaks to the extraordinary commitment of our students and the faculty that join them on their journey to becoming exemplary social workers,” said Dr. Shannon Cambron, Chair of Spalding’s School of Social Work. “Social work is necessary, difficult, relentless, even sacred work, and the students who chose Spalding do so because they want to be pushed to be their best in a place where they are fully known, fully supported and fully valued. I’m in awe of them, and I know I’m a better social worker, educator and leader because of them.”

The CPE analysis shows that in most cases, low-income and URM graduates from the identified degree programs earned higher wages than their peers. Findings were based on earnings data one year following graduation from over 140,000 Kentucky graduates between 2008-2020.

“The School of Social Work is dedicated to meeting the needs of the times and achieving racial and economic equity,” said Dr. Stacy Deck, Director of Undergraduate Education in the School of Social Work. “We are delighted to be recognized as a model program in the state and excited to consider the positive impact our graduates will have on their communities as professional social workers.”

Noting decades of research on inequity for low-income and URM students in education attainment and earnings, CPE sought to learn more about best practices that foster student success.  CPE focus groups with faculty, staff, and students from the high-achieving degree programs, identified 10 recommendations to improve equitable career outcomes for URM and low-income students, including:

  • Foster a culture of care and trust.
  • Focus on employability, adopting the mindset “their success is our success.”
  • Engage employers in the instruction process.
  • Improve faculty/staff awareness of unique student needs and adapt to shifting concerns.
  • Guide underrepresented students into high-demand occupations.
  • Improve student financial literacy and awareness of resources.
  • Eliminate gaps in career counseling.
  • Provide accessible networking opportunities.
  • Encourage career-focused discussions within social groups.
  • Advance cultural diversity on campus.

A common theme across focus groups was that a “person-centered and career-focused environment” fosters early-career success.  The Spalding BSSW Program embraces key practices identified in the report, including pairing high expectations with affirmation and intentional strategies for customized support.  A low student-to-faculty ratio allows for individual relationship-building and responsiveness to student needs.

“The faculty in the Spalding Bachelor of Science in Social Work program are preparing students from all backgrounds for well-paying careers,” said Matthew Vetter, an author of the CPE report. “The best practices in teaching and advising they have put in place provide equitable opportunities for historically underrepresented students to succeed.

“The ability of Spalding’s BSSW program to place underrepresented minority graduates into well-paying jobs strengthens the overall impact of the program on the community. The program models the type of change needed to create a more diverse and equitably paid workforce.”

The Spalding BSSW program, which is currently accepting applications and which plans to add a spring admission opportunity for the first time in January 2022, also focuses on supporting students from college to career.  Career advisement and employability skill-building begin in the first semester and continue through the senior year practicum placement, which offers 450 hours of direct experience in supervised social work practice in a community agency.  As students enter their final semester, they receive guidance on career plans relating to licensure, enrolling in graduate school, and/or pursuing a new job or promotion.  Support from Spalding’s Career Development Center is available to all alumni, and graduates are encouraged to remain connected to Spalding by supervising practicum students, serving as a mentor, and engaging in other forms of service and connection.

Practicing social workers are regulars in the classroom as guest lecturers and panelists, and they assist with skills practice, resume review, mock interviews and other forms of professional role modeling.  The School of Social Work is also actively recruiting area employers to participate in Workforce Partnerships that cultivate a college-to-career pathway by investing in employees who enroll in Spalding’s BSSW and MSW programs.  Employees of these partner agencies are eligible for a tuition discount.

The CPE report notes that “URM and low-income graduates entering into high-demand occupations appear more likely to overcome structural barriers and more likely to access high-paying jobs.”

Individuals who would like to learn more about the Spalding BSSW program may visit www.spalding.edu/social-work or attend an info session on Oct. 19 or Nov. 3.