Costs of an MSW

At present, this post contains a few paragraphs that I have not yet worked into a larger text.  Although these paragraphs refer especially to IUPUI (Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis), the points seem generally applicable across a variety of schools.  I have decided to post this information here, in this incomplete form, since cost is often an important factor in a graduate education decision.

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Master’s degrees in social work (MSW) typically require 60 credits, earned over two academic years if pursued full-time.  By comparison, IUPUI requires only 51 credits for an MBA.  The 60-credit requirement is imposed by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which accredits MSW programs.  According to Sowers and Dulmus (2009, p. 115), CSWE ultimately represents the views of a majority of its member programs.  In other words, SSWs do not generally seem to be pushing their accrediting agency to reduce courseload requirements, so as to make some SW professors redundant and achieve appropriate reductions in SSW faculties and budgets.

Obviously, it would be more expensive to take 60 credits than to take 51 — or, extending the point, to take the 42 credits that IUPUI requires for an MSN (nursing), or the 30 credits it requires of a suitably prepared student in its MSA (accounting) program.  It is not that more education is being conveyed.  If anything, students taking a full-time load of nine to twelve credits per semester in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) MS program will typically be working much harder than most students taking 15 credits (15 x 4 semesters = 60) in an MSW program.  The situation is simply that CSWE and its member SSWs have carved up the two-year degree program in smaller slices.  It is not clear whether this was done for the deliberate purpose of increasing the amount of money extracted from students, but it tends to have that effect.

These arrangements are especially lucrative for those SSWs that have achieved a national-level ranking from U.S. News, and can thus attract students who can afford out-of-state or private-school tuition.  At the top-ranked University of Michigan, for example, the 60-credit MSW will cost a New Yorker about $72,000 in tuition — as compared to the total of $38,000 that an Indiana in-state resident would pay in tuition for an MBA at IU.  There do not appear to be data suggesting that these prices are commensurate with graduates’ salaries or with the levels of difficulty or with students’ levels of qualification.  To the contrary, ETS reports indicate that, between GRE-takers heading for business and accounting and SW master’s programs, mean verbal scores are about the same, but mean quantitative scores for business and accounting students are about 24 percentile points higher.

There is another factor that serves to inflate the cost of the MSW.  A significant portion of the MSW’s credits are devoted to internships for which tuition is charged.  At IUSSW, these are S555 (3 credits) and S651-S652 (8 credits).  In other words, MSW interns are not only working for free; they are paying for the privilege of doing so.

Some people will conclude that this does not smell right — that, if you wish to avoid getting burned, you might start by not walking into a building that has smoke coming out of its windows.

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