Abstract: A Study of PhD Courses and Curricula across Schools of Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

A Study of PhD Courses and Curricula across Schools of Social Work

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Congress, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Cynthia Franklin, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean of Doctoral Education, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Melissa Nachbaur, BS, MSW Candidate, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Katharine Sucher, MSW Candidate, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

Few studies have examined what is offered in PhD curricula across different schools within social work education. This study aims to build on the current research on the PhD curriculum in social work by examining types of courses that are offered in PhD curriculum across all GADE member schools to gain a better understanding of the types and numbers of courses are being offered. In addition, this study will assess if GADE Quality Guidelines were used in the development of the PhD curriculum and how consistent course offerings may follow the guidelines that GADE provides. Finally, this study will evaluate differences and similarities that may exist across PhD curricula based on AAUP rankings of universities and will evaluate approaches to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) in curricula.


GADE affiliated universities with PhD programs were studied (N= 85 universities). Two graduate research assistants gathered data on each school by each school’s official website, including webpages and electronic student handbooks. Differences in coding were brought to a third coder for reconciliation. A fourth coder also independently checked the coding. The coding of the curriculum was further sent to the PhD director of the individual schools via email and directors were asked to check and verify the coding for the individual courses within their PhD curriculum. Final coding was updated to reflect the changes indicated by the PhD director. PhD program directors were additionally asked to provide responses to questions about the Impact of GADE Quality Guidelines on their curriculum and how they approached DEI in PhD curricula.


The curriculum coding resulted in 1146 courses being coded under 28 categories: Academic and Professional Development, Dissertation, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Electives, Grant Writing, History, Independent/Directed Studies, Literature Review/Meta-Analysis, Other, Pedagogy & Social Work Education, Philosophy of Science & Epistemology, Policy, Practice, Preliminary/Qualifying Exam, Program Evaluation & Practice Evaluation, Research (General, Intervention, Measurement, Practicum, Qualitative, and Quantitative), Seminars/Proseminar/Colloquium, Special Topics, Statistics, Theory (General, Macro, and Micro), and Values & Ethics. Results showed a variation in the way PhD curricula offered. All programs offered an average six courses in their PhD curriculum. This study showed that coursework in grant writing, measurement, literature reviews and meta-analysis, program evaluation, and intervention research were being offered in less than 20 percent of the PhD programs. Only 40% of the PhD directors reported following the current GADE Quality Guidelines in their curriculum and only 7% reported a dedicated course in DEI.


There is a variability in courses that are offered across PhD curricula with a noticeable absence of specific research courses, use of GADE Quality Guidelines in formation of curricula, and noticeable gaps in courses in theory, social work profession and history, and policy. There is also a lack of course content on DEI, values and ethics as well as a lack of consistent education in pedagogy. Implications are that graduates are not prepared with disciplinary knowledge to be stewards of the social work profession.