Social Work Social Work Education and Research
Jessica Holmes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 June 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0077


Social work education began more than a century ago; until the end of the 1800s, social workers were trained primarily through an apprenticeship model. Social work education has seen tremendous growth since that time. There are now more than 450 baccalaureate, 200 master’s, and seventy doctoral programs in the United States, representing more than 100,000 students. Baccalaureate and master’s programs are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). At the doctoral level, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE) provides quality guidelines for programs. Research has been a part of the social work curriculum for some time. Studies have examined the goals of teaching research and evidence-based practice in social work, the courses taught, and the other supports, including research institutes, conferences, funding, and publications. Education researchers also have examined how to frame assessment of social work students and programs and some promising tools have been identified.

Introductory Works

To get a broad understanding of social work education, the development of social work curriculum, the educational continuum, and the individuals and major associations involved, both Austin 1997 and Kendall 2002 provide engaging reading. Hoffman 2008 provides a broad description of the current structures, the continuum, and the trends in social work education. To obtain a better understanding of present-day expectations for education, Council on Social Work Education 2008 along with Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education 2003 outline what is expected of social work programs and graduates at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels. The authors of both Austin 1997 and Kendall 2002 use a host of source materials—conference proceedings, board minutes, letters, and articles—to support their writing; to view the source material, consult the Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota.

  • Austin, D. M. 1997. The institutional development of social work education: The first 100 years—and beyond. Journal of Social Work Education 33:599–612.

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    Austin’s article provides a succinct history of the development of schools of social work and social work curriculum from the 1890s to the 1990s. Austin also focuses on the continuing debate over the purposes of social work and social work education. The article also addresses the issues that Austin believes will impact social work education in the coming century.

  • Council on Social Work Education. 2008. Educational policy and accreditation standards. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

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    CSWE’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) is the document the Commission on Accreditation uses in making accreditation decisions about baccalaureate and master’s social work programs. The document outlines the core competencies that define social work practice as well as defining the purpose of field education, listing the social work values that underpin the curriculum, and explaining the purpose of social work education.

  • Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education. 2003. Guidelines for quality in social work doctoral programs. Richmond, VA: Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education.

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    Doctoral programs are not accredited in social work, but most programs are members of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education (GADE), which has issued these guidelines that outline what a research doctorate in social work should look like. The guidelines include the purpose of doctoral education as well as expectations for program resources, curriculum, and program assessment.

  • Hoffman, K. 2008. Social work education: Overview. In Encyclopedia of social work. 20th ed. Edited by T. Mizrahi and L. E. Davis, 107–114. Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers.

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    A succinct entry on social work education including history, accreditation, and the education continuum with sections for baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral programs. Hoffman also provides a summary of current trends in education. Available for purchase online.

  • Kendall, K. A. 2002. Council on social work education: Its antecedents and first twenty years. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education.

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    An engaging book telling the early history not only of the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), but also of education and accreditation in social work. Kendall drew on a wealth of primary source documents and her personal experience as executive director of CSWE during the 1960s. The history runs through the 1970s to include the full recognition and accreditation of undergraduate programs.

  • Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota

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    Many of the publications that treat the history of social work education and research refer to conference proceedings and minutes from meetings that may not be available online. The Social Welfare History Archives at the University of Minnesota houses many of the organizational and personal documents referred to in the publications. The website explains procedures for accessing the documents, and the archivists are very responsive to inquiries.

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