The Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) saw a sharp spike in applications and enrollment this past year, as well as a surprising demographic change.
According to Elaine Gerald, dean of admissions and a licensed social worker, GSS enrolled 592 new students—50 students more than in 2009 and 122 students more than in 2008. Full-time students also increased this year, in relation to part-time students.
Moreover, more than 50 percent of the new students are in the 21-25 age group—a demographic at odds with the traditional social work candidate, who is typically older and often a returning student.
Gerald cited a few reasons for the changes. For the first time, GSS offered an online application that catered to the Internet-savvy generation and other technically minded people. Some 70 percent of this past year’s applications were submitted online.
Secondly, because many applicants had requested to sit in on a class, Gerald devised a series of streamlined teaching presentations by 10 faculty members. The presentations were offered once a month and covered a range of topics, from sex therapy to dealing with an aging population. They were designed to offer an overview of the school’s faculty expertise, and were created specifically for applicants. In this way, the applicants wouldn’t find themselves in a class covering mid-semester material, which they then would have to absorb out of context.
Gerald said that all 140 applicants who registered for at least one of the free presentations ended up enrolling in GSS.
“We have a brilliant faculty,” Gerald said. “On their own time, they came to meet with prospective students and to speak about topics that they love. I’m pretty sure the (applicants) were impressed.”
Lastly, Gerald said that, although the increase may be influenced by a sluggish economy, it may also be part of a larger trend among new generations, on the heels of President Barack Obama’s election, to dedicate their lives to service. Otherwise, she said, why choose graduate school in a profession that offers lower starting salaries?
“I think young people are becoming excited again about the power of change,” said Gerald, “and I believe that puts social work front and center.”
And Fordham, said Gerald, with a Jesuit philosophy and a New York City location, offers students a strong curriculum in social justice and international social work.
In spite of the availability of an online application, Gerald said that GSS still makes an effort to respond in person to interested callers and applicants.
“We have no voicemail,” she said. “When you make a phone call to our office, somebody picks up the telephone. So, in a world of technology, we still offer a duality of customer service, depending on where a person’s technological skill set lies.”
After all, said Gerald, social work is a “social profession.”
“A person who chooses it is looking for the human connection, so we provide it from the start.”