Methods: This cross-sectional study is the first known study to determine which sociodemographic determinants (age, race, type of social work program, caregiver status, first-generation college student, size of household) predicted the number and type of challenges social work students experienced during the pandemic at an urban university. Challenges examined included juggling with caregiver demands, managing finances, food and housing, coping will illness, searching for a job. An online survey was distributed to all bachelor’s and master’s level social work students in November 2020. A total of 332 responded. Binomial regressions were conducted to determine which predictor variables (social determinants) were associated with outcomes variables (different types of challenges). A Poisson regression was conducted to determine which of the same predictor variables were associated with the outcome variable (greatest number of challenges).
Results: Compared to those with larger households, social work students with one to two members in their household predicted challenges related to coping with illness, grief and loss, feeling disconnected, managing finances, food and housing. Students with caregiver demands were met with challenges related to managing finances, juggling school, their caregiver responsibilities, and coping with illness. Compared to MSW students, BSW students reported the challenges juggling school with caregiver demands and coping with grief and loss. Lastly, the greatest number of challenges across all social determinants were students with larger households, caregivers, BSW students and students of color.
Conclusions and Implications: This study lends insight into the role of social determinants on social work students’ challenges in urban universities during the Covid-19 pandemic. These findings have important implications for social work education, practice, and research especially during times of crisis. Social work programs must be informed that social work students entering programs may have greater challenges than other disciplines. In particular, BSW students, students living in smaller households, students who are caregivers and students of color may have the greatest trouble coping during future variants, pandemics, or other worldwide crises. Greater resources and supports need to be in place within social work programs giving particular attention to the emotional, academic, professional and financial needs of these students. Further research could provide insights into which resources would be most helpful and how universities can implement them to address students' educational, emotional and financial well-being and better promote their learning during times of universal crisis.