Abstract: Social Work Education: Are Students Prepared to Work with Immigrants? (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Social Work Education: Are Students Prepared to Work with Immigrants?

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun B, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Addie Sandler, PhD, Assistant Professor, Marist College, Poughkeepsie, NY
Jason Ostrander, PhD, Assistant Professor, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT
Elena Delavega, PhD, MSW, Associate Professor, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN

Recent population projections predict that non-Hispanic, native born, White Americans will be less than half of the country’s population in 2045 (Frey, 2018). Between 2005 and 2050, the proportion of American residents who are immigrants is expected to increase by more than 50%, from 12% in 2005 to 19% in 2050 (Passel & Cohn, 2008). The educational challenge is both more acute and more challenging in the contemporary political discourse. The dissemination of much disinformation about authorized and unauthorized immigration has become commonplace (Politifact, n.d.). Given the growing population of immigrants and the multitude of issues they face, social workers are positioned to serve immigrants in a variety of arenas (Park et. al 2011). Social Work educators are responsible for equipping students with the critical thinking tools required to make visible, deeply embedded forms of oppression and discrimination (McPherson et al, 2019). These authors propose that the embedded nature of discrimination is not to be interpreted only on a micro level but rather that Social Work programs should expose students to the unique challenges of this population, on a micro-mezzo-macro level. Given the current trends in immigration policy, the social work profession must renew our commitment to addressing the needs of immigrant populations through micro and macro interventions.


Data for this cross-sectional study were obtained through a voluntary self-administered survey. Faculty at eight accredited social work programs distributed the pre-test and post-test survey in their policy courses. To participate in this study, undergraduate and graduate social work students must have completed a foundation year social welfare policy course during AY 2018-2019; advanced standing students were not eligible to participate. A total of 417 unique students completed the pre-test and 341(81.8%) completed the post-test questionnaires.


Paired samples t-tests were run to compare the responses of the pre-test and post-test on the full Attitudes Scale and four sub-scales—Assimilation, Perceived Threat, Policy, and Social Services. On the overall Attitudes Scale, there was a statistically significant increase in positive attitudes (t(340) =-3.37, p<.05). There was statistically significant increase in attitudes for the following sub-scales: Assimilation (t(340) =-2.67, p<.05), Perceived Threat (t(340) =-3.76, p<.000), and Policy (t(340) =-2.28, p<.05). The Social Services sub-scale (t(340) =-.616, p=.54) did not have a statistically significant increase in positive attitudes.

Conclusion and Implications

These findings lend support to previous research suggesting many social work students lack an understanding of the immigrant experience; suggest that many social work students enter the profession with attitudes inconsistent with social work values and not congruent with the competency of cultural humility; after completing a policy course and participating in this research by taking attitude tests related immigration, the attitudes of some students about immigration improved slightly on the assimilation, perceived threat, and policy sub-scale, there is cause for concern that social work students lack the cultural humility needed to meet the ethical requirements of the social work profession and the social empathy required to provide adequate services to immigrant populations.