Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

67P Service-Learning In Accredited Baccalaureate Social Work Programs: National Survey Results

Friday, January 13, 2012
Independence F - I (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Helen E. Petracchi, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Lisa Schelbe, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Addie Weaver, MSW, MPA, Doctoral Student, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background and Purpose: Service-learning is a pedagogical approach, integrating classroom instruction with community experiences to meet course goals. While the service-learning literature has grown in recent years, minimal attention has been paid to its impact on social work education nationally. Current literature assesses localized service-learning projects on student outcomes. However, there are no nationally-representative studies exploring the extent of service-learning activities in accredited social work programs.

This study, presented as a poster, is the first of its kind to survey CSWE-accredited baccalaureate social work programs in an effort to determine the extent to which service-learning is required. Attention was paid to program type as it may impact the incorporation of service-learning.

Methods: Using a cross-sectional design, a web-based survey of CSWE-accredited baccalaureate programs was conducted. Respondents were queried about the nature and extent of service-learning within their programs, including courses requiring service-learning, types of service-learning, and total hours required.

Forty-eight percent (N=202) of all CSWE-accredited baccalaureate programs completed the 21-item survey. Respondents represented a variety of institutions. Over half (54.2%) reported their college or university as being public or state-related, approximately a third (33.2%) reported their institutions were private schools with religious affiliation, while 13.6% identified their program as being private with no religious affiliation. The sample was almost evenly divided by location: 39.2% urban, 29.6% suburban, and 31.2% rural.

Results: Nearly 80% (79.5%) of respondents reported service-learning was a program requirement. Service-learning requirements were consistently found among all types of accredited social work programs. There were no statistically significant differences in requiring service-learning based on program affiliation (X2 = 5.26; p = .072) or geographic location (X2 = .464; p = .793). Respondents reported service-learning was most often required in practice classes (32.6%) or Introduction to Social Work (17.4%). The median number of service-learning hours required per semester was 44.

A variety of service-learning activities were reported including, tutoring students, campus activities, assisting in nursing homes, taking life histories, running groups, program assessment, and public education. Some programs required students to complete individual projects while other programs required a single class project or small group projects such as a program evaluation or community assessment. A challenge significant to implementing service-learning in social work education may be that “service-learning” is still not fully understood. This survey began with a definition of “service-learning”. Yet, respondents frequently used “service-learning” and “volunteering” interchangeably.

Conclusions and Implications: Nearly 80% of responding CSWE-accredited baccalaureate social work programs require service learning for an average of 44 hours per semester. While activities vary, service-learning is found among all types of institutions that house accredited social work programs (both public and private). Despite its benefits, service-learning is a unique pedagogical strategy which may not yet be fully understood in social work education. One of the major implications of this study is a need to clarify the similarities and differences between “service-learning” and “volunteerism” for social work educators; a result that can be achieved through education and assessed through further research.