Enrollment is now open for Fort Hays State University's new master’s of social work program, a nearly entirely online clinical skills course with a goal of filling an unmet need for social workers and those they care for in western Kansas.

Opening to students in June and August of 2020, the program will split its curricula between online coursework, internships and five days of in-person, hands-on clinical training, said Kendal Carswell, an assistant professor in the FHSU Social Work Department.

Once students have completed the program, staff will help them transition to social work positions where they will complete 3,000 hours of supervised practice and additional learning, said Tim Davis, chairman of the FHSU Social Work Department.

The central goal of the program is not only to train students for a growing social work industry, but to train students who will fill industry needs in western Kansas, Carswell said. Students can complete coursework from any location and on their own schedule, carry out clinical internships close to home and, depending on the number of students enrolled in certain areas, attend the limited in-person course days at regional community colleges, including Garden City Community College, he said.

“The idea is that if we can educate people at home, there’s a higher likelihood they will stay at home to practice and fill the service gaps that exist in rural areas,” Carswell said.

Carswell and other FHSU representatives are promoting the course this semester, holding an informational session at 6 p.m. Friday in the Endowment Room at the Beth Tedrow Student Center at GCCC. Students can enroll in the new program now on the FHSU website, with applications due by the Jan. 15 priority deadline or Feb. 15 secondary deadline.

It will be offered in two forms: an advanced one-year track for students holding bachelor’s degrees in social work and a regular two-year track for students holding bachelor’s degrees in other fields. All students must have a bachelor’s degree to enroll.

Carswell said the program is considerably more affordable than similar programs at nearby universities, the one-year program costing $10,358 and the two-year program $18,9991 for both in- and out-of-state students.

The online master’s program is an extension of a long-running bachelor’s in social work program FHSU has offered at regional colleges for over a decade. Today, students living near community colleges in Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal and Colby can take the FHSU program largely online with weekly in-person classes offered on the community college campuses.

Next fall, students will also have the option to take the bachelor’s program entirely online, Davis said, hopefully opening up the degree path to students from more rural counties or with less flexible schedules.

The need for licensed social workers in western Kansas is staggering, Carswell said. Fewer than 5% of the state’s licensed master’s social workers, specialist clinical social workers and psychologists work in western Kansas, with the vast majority of western counties having five or less personnel and eight counties having none.

The new program will ideally be a direct solution, Carswell said. While the program, expected to be capped at 40 to 50 students, will be open to all, applicants from western Kansas will have an edge over applicants with similar qualifications from eastern Kansas or other states, he said.

The deficiency of licensed social workers in the western half of the state means needed social work positions go empty for years on end or personnel recruited to the area leave quickly, Carswell said. He said representatives from agencies in the region had told FHSU staff that recruited social workers also tend to have a lack of clinical training, an education gap the school is hoping to fill with its internships and hands-on training.

“Our program will provide people that training. It’s more than an education ... The (five days) are showing the ability to take knowledge and skills that they’re learning and apply them competently,” Carswell said.

A social work degree is a flexible one, Carswell said, connecting students to careers in mental health services, addiction counseling, school and hospital support, nursing homes, hospice centers, government agencies like the Department for Children and Families, adoption services and crisis services, among other areas.

And the master’s program gives students more options, opening up career paths to administrative and therapist positions, social work in schools, case management and certain clinical services, he said.

“It’s probably the most flexible degree there is. Because you be working with one population one day and move to another population and be able to work with them without having additional education requirements,” Carswell said.

“We see it as a need in western Kansas that will improve quality of life and help with healthier communities because there will be ... services that now either don’t exist or could be expanded to serve more people because ... they’ll be able to hire licensed professionals.”


Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.