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Addressing Idaho's Social Work Shortage: Idaho State University Launches Online Programs

July 16, 2023

Idaho State University is helping combat a statewide mental health care shortage by offering online options for bachelor and master’s social work programs beginning in summer 2023. 

Idaho State is currently enrolling students for Fall 2023 in online program options for both Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and the Master of Social Work degrees. These online programs are fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

The online option allows students to study in their home communities, which in turn will increase the number of providers in rural Idaho, said Darci Graves, director of the Master of Social Work program. 

“We know that the best way to create social workers in rural Idaho is to find people in rural Idaho and give them an education,” she said. “If we can educate them in their communities they’re more likely to stay in their communities, and that’s how we build effective social workers in rural Idaho.”

The programs are especially recruiting Idaho students, Graves said. The entire state of Idaho is a federally-designated mental health care shortage area. 

Our preference is to enroll students in Idaho and geographically adjacent areas,” Graves said. “Our primary interest is serving Idaho students and addressing the social work shortage in Idaho.”

The department worked hard to obtain the online accreditation needed to continue to offer online options to students.

“There was a demand from existing students,” Graves said. “Simultaneously there’s been an increased demand statewide for social workers. The crisis has reached such a fever pitch that the state legislature is trying to address the issue.”

Graves said that in Pocatello they hear from their practicum placement students that some of the local clinics have waiting lists of 200-300 people. 

“We want to meet the needs for high quality, well-trained social workers across the state. We also want to provide access to quality education that is available and convenient for people,” Graves says.

Graves said that area schools that offer associate degrees and pre-social work options are having a hard time finding bachelor’s programs for their students.

“They’d like to be able to guide their students straight into the online ISU program,” she says. “The bachelor’s in social work is an important part of the pipeline for social work in the area.”

Ines Jindra, program director of the Bachelor of Arts in Social work program, said the program still emphasizes the interactive elements of social work. 

“Interacting with other humans is a foundational skill for social workers,” she says. “We want to maintain the integrity of the courses, the program, and the profession.”

Jindra and Graves both say that many people will benefit from the flexibility of the online options. 

“Many of our students work full time,” Jindra said. “Many are nontraditional students who have families, children, and aging parents. It's really important that our programs are flexible.”

Graves says she’s been meeting with 2-5 students every day interested in the programs. 

“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “It’s going to create a lot of opportunities.”

For more information about the BASW program, contact Jindra at ineswengerjindra@isu.edu, and for more information about the MSW program, please contact Graves at darcigraves@isu.edu.

Detailed program descriptions can be found at www.isu.edu/sswc


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