New Law May Mean More Students for School of Social Work

A new Virginia law could boost demand for degrees from Radford University’s School of Social Work, the school’s director said.

The Social Work Truth in Title Act, which Gov. Bob McDonnell amended on March 26 and the legislature accepted on April 6, requires anyone using the job title “social worker” in Virginia to be licensed and to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work.
“This could have a significant impact on Radford’s School of Social Work,” Director Elise Fullmer said. “People will be returning to school to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work to meet the requirements.”
The new law was needed, Fullmer said, because previously there was no state requirement that a person using the title “social worker” be licensed or have a degree. The new law, which takes effect in 2013, exempts nursing home employees who meet federal standards to use the title but  requires all others to stop using it until they can obtain credentials and be licensed by the state.
The Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers posted a statement on its website saying the new law ensures “that Virginians know that when a person says they are a social worker, they have the education and credentials to back it up.”
Radford University's School of Social Work, accredited by the national Council on Social Work Education, is one of the largest in the state. Enrollment for spring semester included 37 social work majors, 49 pre-social work students and 130 graduate students, said Loretta Estes, academic advising coordinator and assistant to the dean of the Waldron College of Health and Human Services, which includes the School of Social Work.
The university's bachelor’s program is also offered in collaboration with Virginia Western Community College in Roanoke, which reported spring enrollment of 22. The master’s program offers study options at the Roanoke Center for Higher Education. All sites for both programs offer full- and part-time options for completing a degree.

Fullmer said the School of Social Work is grounded in the rural, small-city context of Southwest Virginia but has expanded its curriculum to ensure a global, multicultural perspective. Graduates are well prepared to serve both urban and rural communities, she said.

Sarah Griffin of Fauquier County, who received her M.S.W. in May, did not come to RU intending to be a social worker. As she learned more about the degree and profession, she said, it just clicked. “I knew I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” she said. “I decided on this career because of the effect you can have on a person's life. As a social worker, you may work with clients and not ever see a change in them, but you may plant the seed that grows into a change years later.”

There are more than 600,000 licensed social workers in the United States who serve people dealing with issues such as poverty, abuse, physical and mental illness, divorce, addiction, depression and unemployment, according to the National Association of Social Workers. Clinical social workers are the nation’s largest provider of mental health care, working in facilities ranging from hospitals and clinics to schools, senior centers and prisons. In Virginia, nearly half of social workers are in the mental health field, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Jun 2, 2011
Bonnie Erickson