In 2011, Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service (GSS) offered its first online master of social work (MSW) program to a selective cohort. Two years later, the program has more than quintupled in size and has established itself as a leader in online social work education. It is now ranked by BestSchools.org as No. 1 in online MSW programs.
“The primary mission is to offer a social work degree to students who would not normally have access to a university,” said Dale Lindquist, D.Min., director of the online MSW program, the first of its kind offered by a graduate school of social service in the state.
“We have people living in rural upstate New York, southern New Jersey, and also people who are working full time or raising families.”
In terms of structure, the online M.S.W. is identical to its campus counterpart. Both require 48 credits of coursework and 18 credits of fieldwork. The difference, however, is that students take courses completely online and can complete clinical work in their home communities.
What distinguishes GSS’s program from other online MSW programs, Lindquist said, is its asynchronous scheduling. Rather than having to attend a virtual class at a predetermined time, students log on at their convenience to listen to lectures and do coursework, freeing them to arrange classes around work and personal schedules.
“I sometimes call this kind of education ‘the great conversation,’” Lindquist said. “In a formal classroom setting, you attend class once or twice a week, but online students are in continual conversation with each other and with faculty, exchanging ideas and experiences.”
Moreover, the program saw two important expansions in 2013. First, GSS added an advanced standing option for those who have a bachelor’s degree in social work or have already completed some social work credits, making it an appealing option for students looking to save time.
In addition, GSS recently eliminated its previous requirement that applicants must live outside 50 miles of Fordham’s campuses. Now, the program is open to all residents of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, including the greater New York metropolitan area. The GSS administrators eventually plan to further extend the program to other regions, and possibly other countries.
“We’re looking to expand our horizons over time. This would really increase diversity—to have someone from a rural area to be in the same class as someone from the metropolitan area, or even someone from another country,” Lindquist said. “We’ll be able to offer more opportunities as the technology gets more sophisticated.”
In the meantime, GSS will continue to improve what Lindquist said it already does well—establishing the educational relationships characteristic of Fordham programs, both online and on campus.
“The program is relational in a way that one may not initially think of with online education. It’s just that those relationships exist in a different context,” he said.
“And that is a critical aspect of the success of our online program—that students can email or pick up a phone and receive individualized attention. That attention is one of the high marks of our program, and it’s showing in the high retention rate we have.”
— Joanna Klimaski