University launches an MSW degree online program


An online program will give students in rural areas and nationwide the opportunity to earn an MSW degree

University of Nevada, Reno, School of Social Work

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 19 to 25 percent growth rate in clinical social work jobs in the next ten years,” noted Dr. Goutham Menon, director of the School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). Many of these jobs, especially those that involve clinical counseling, require a master of social work (MSW) degree and a licensed clinical social worker certification.

However, “80 percent of Nevada is rural, and the students in those communities don’t have an option to get a degree in social work,” Menon explained. “We would like to have a program where we can keep these individuals in their communities with good-paying jobs and help the communities.”

So Menon looked at options for providing an online MSW degree program. Because UNR’s online offering unit did not have the capacity to support the new program, Menon began researching online program management vendors. “I had the opportunity to look at what other schools of social work were doing, and the University of New England was with Pearson,” he noted. “I heard very good things about the help Pearson gave them with regard to instructional design, marketing, and recruitment.”

UNR issued a request for proposal and, after vetting the responses, selected Pearson Embanet, which provides online program management services, in late 2015. Plans are underway to launch the online MSW degree program in the fall of 2016.

UNR worked with Pearson to keep the program’s tuition affordable. Because students in rural areas were a primary target audience, Menon did not feel comfortable charging high tuition rates. “Pearson was willing to listen to me,” he commented. “They readjusted the pro formas and came back to us with a very affordable degree for in-state students.”

Pearson is willing to listen and work with us to meet our needs.

One of the biggest challenges in launching the new program was modifying traditional courses to work online. “Social work is not very easy to teach because some of the courses involve the real-life presence of people—we need to look at their eyes and see nonverbal cues,” Menon explained. “We have to train students in a wide variety of nondidactic ways, and my faculty are pretty pleased with how Pearson’s instructional designers have been able to work with them to translate some of these difficult tasks into an online environment.”

Although the online program has not yet launched, UNR has already seen some crossover benefits between the online and on-the-ground programs. Promotions for the online program have generated increased interest in the on-the-ground program, which had not traditionally been promoted.

Menon also commented, “I think we will be better instructors in the on-the-ground program because we will have prepared for the semester in advance for the online program.”

When asked how he will judge the success of the online program, Menon responded, “It is easy to say that success means ‘I met my target number of students,’ but I think that would be the wrong way to go about it. For me, it is how we work with Pearson to develop a program with best practices in mind and the best possible courses that engage students so they will spread the word and get more students enrolled in the program. And I think we are definitely getting there.”

To learn more about UNR’s online MSW program, read the full success story.

Read the full success story

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