Abstract: Current Landscape of Doctoral Education in Social Work: A Look at the PhD and Dsw Programs (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Current Landscape of Doctoral Education in Social Work: A Look at the PhD and Dsw Programs

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Congress, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Mo Yee Lee, PhD, Professor, PhD Program Director, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Ray Eads, MSSW, LISW, PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Elizabeth Lightfoot, PhD, Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St. Paul, MN
Michael C. LaSala, PhD, Associate Professor & Director of the DSW Program, the State University of New Jersey
Cynthia Franklin, PhD, Professor and Associate Dean of Doctoral Education, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX

The landscape of doctoral education in social work has changed in the past decade, with the re-emergence and accreditation of practice doctorate (DSW) programs and the gradual tightening of the social work academic job market. This new generation of DSW programs have distinguished themselves as advanced practice degrees, with the first modern DSW program established at the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. Currently, there are 19 DSW programs with actively enrolled students and several more in planning stages. The changing landscape of doctoral education indicates the need to understand the overall landscape as well as the unique and potentially complementary contributions of PhD and DSW programs to doctoral education.


The 2020 GADE Director Survey employed a cross-sectional survey design to understand the current landscape of doctoral education pertaining to program and student characteristics, support for students, curriculum focus and design, and students’ job search support and outcomes. Directors of 69% PhD programs (60) and 88% DSW programs (15) from GADE member institutions responded to the survey.


Findings indicate similarities and differences between the two types of programs in their emphasis on preparing graduates to educate future social work professionals and contribute to social work knowledge. In general, PhD programs focus on building students’ research capacities, including interdisciplinary research and leadership in higher education and research-oriented organizations, whereas DSW programs prepare students to contribute to the areas of clinical expertise, leadership in non-academic settings, and advancing social work practice at multiple levels. The program structure, curricula and graduation requirements are organized according to the distinct emphasis of each type of program. PhD programs overall provided more extensive job search support than DSW programs. While both PhD and DSW graduates sought positions at teaching-oriented institutions, they also aspired to different types of positions, with PhD graduates pursuing tenure-track positions, postdoctoral fellowships, and more research-oriented positions, and DSW graduates more often pursuing nonacademic administrative positions or clinical practice.


These findings have significant implications for doctoral programs as they navigate their strategic directions in the changing landscape of doctoral social work education. Issues that need to be revisited include program accessibility and student support that increase the diversity and inclusiveness of social work doctoral education; the extent to which graduates from different types of institutions are well-prepared for the careers they aim to pursue with their newly acquired practice doctorate and research doctorate degrees; implication of a rapidly growing number of practice doctorate programs and graduates for the job market and the profession as a whole; and opportunities for complementary contributions to doctoral education and social work profession presented by the uniqueness of practice doctorate and research doctorate programs especially in the area of research-practice integration.