Abstract: A Qualitative Investigation of Barriers to Underrepresented Minorities Applying to Doctoral Programs in Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

A Qualitative Investigation of Barriers to Underrepresented Minorities Applying to Doctoral Programs in Social Work

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom N, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Maryam Rafieifar, PhD, Doctoral Candidate, Florida International University, Miami, FL
Richard Beaulaurier, PhD
Background and Purpose: Despite scholarships, fellowships, and graduate assistantships targeted to recruit minority candidates, doctoral classes continue to lag behind MSW and BSW programs graduates from traditionally underrepresented groups, which may deprive them of faculty and other leadership openings. This study sought to understand social factors that deter minority students from considering pursuing doctoral education.

Methods: The sample was drawn from students in a School of Social Work at a federally designated Minority-Serving Institution (MSI) and Hispanic-Serving Institution (HIS). The site was chosen due to its high concentration of high-GPA African American and Latinx students. Criterion-based sampling resulted in a sample of 18 students 14 of whom indicated they were not interested in pursuing doctoral study. A member of the team identified students who had GPAs of over 3.75, and who were either Latinx or Black. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, digitally recorded, and transcribed. Transcripts were coded using open coding technics, as well as drawing on a priori codes drawn from the literature. All a priori codes used in later analyses earned their way into the analysis by being linked with quotations from respondents. Codes produced in the open coding process were used to develop higher order concepts and themes that emerged in subsequent analyses. Throughout the analysis, the team engaged in negative case analysis and constant comparison techniques to help ensure consistency and fidelity.

Results: Key themes emerging from the analysis related to how respondents viewed their future plans, relationships with family and friends, and institutional barriers. Students’ relationships were often had complex and multifaceted impacts on their plans. Almost all the participants said that their families would take pride in and support doctoral study. Nevertheless, family dynamics and demands as well as limited understanding about post-doctoral employment were significant barriers. Respondents were often unaware of the benefits of continuing education while being highly aware of the concrete benefits of licensure and employment opportunities available with just their MSW. Respondents viewed their path as clinical and agency based social workers clearly, which contrasted with vague understandings of career paths of doctoral social workers. The doctorate was sometimes seen as delaying careers rather than enhancing them.

Conclusions and implications: Respondents’ perceptions of doctoral study may not be based on a concrete understanding of doctoral studies and post-doctoral employment opportunities, particularly for first generation students. Most had not had discussions with faculty about doctoral education and were more often based on impressions and extrapolations of their experiences at the BSW and MSW level. There was little evidence of understanding among respondents about the program requirements, length of the program, academic expectations, or financial resources available to PhD students. This study highlights key barriers, that can aid programs to tailor outreach and messages that provide more complete information upon which to base decisions about their educations and careers.