Jacob Frazier had lost his job as a full-time professional dancer in Chicago as performance venues closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He decided to return to school to prepare for a new career, but the curriculum he was looking for had to be adaptable and affordable enough that he could be employed while learning.
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Frazier chose Arizona State University’s online Master of Social Work (MSW) program.
He had what he was looking for, he said: It was flexible and fit his budget, but it went beyond that – it also taught him to appreciate what it is to be someone else, someone who needed help; learn empathy, he says.
“The paradigm shift (of job loss) made me consider options – and one was social work. During COVID and observing (the) Black Lives Matter (movement), I had a lot of epiphanies about what culture is and what community is,” said Frazier, who had worked to build diversity, equity and inclusion at the nonprofit. arts-related profit where he had been employed.
Affordable and Meaningful Education
ASU started the program at its school of social work seven years ago. At a time when student debt has become a serious national concern, the intention of the program is—and always has been—to provide graduate social work students with an affordable and meaningful education no matter where in the world they are learning.
Cynthia Lietz is a professor of social work and dean of Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, home of the School of Social Work and the online MSW program. She stressed the importance of affordability.
“While some programs result in high levels of student debt, our program provides access to a premium higher education experience without creating unrealistic long-term financial burdens,” Lietz said.
Foundation professor and director of the School of Social Work, Elizabeth Lightfoot, said the focus from the start was on creating an ethics program with integrity woven throughout the process – from the procedures of recruitment and admissions to help students avoid a situation where they are overwhelmed with debt upon graduation.
Since its inception in 2014, the program has proven to be a go-to program for students. After welcoming an initial cohort of 83 students in 2014, enrollment in the program only quadrupled two years later and grew to 966 students in the fall semester of 2021.
The program is among ASU’s top five online graduate programs by enrollment, according to EdPlus in ASU’s 2021 Annual Report, and its reputation has grown with enrollment.
In 2018, ASU’s online MSW program earned a #6 national ranking by bestmswprograms.com. Today, the School of Social Work itself is ranked by U.S. News & World Report at No. 25—among the top 10%—out of 260 such schools nationwide.
In addition to its affordability, Lightfoot attributes the program’s success to its teaching model. Prominent academics teach the courses and have written the textbooks. As a result, students get a unique learning opportunity, she said.
“We are committed to providing the same quality experience for our students studying 100% online as our students studying on campus, which includes instruction by educators who are full-time faculty,” said said Lightfoot. “Affordability and high quality align well with ASU’s charter, which encourages us to measure who we include rather than exclude, and how they are doing.”
‘It’s a good fit’
Frazier said he was very satisfied with his integration experience and his communication with the school.
“I had a good idea of what I was going to get out of the program,” he said. “It’s a good fit. Cost was a big issue for me. It’s affordable, especially for a Masters in Social Work program.
Frazier said the program provides her with autonomy, allowing her to incorporate course readings before and after her current full-time job and during her lunch hour, with weekends spent on modular homework.
“You can modify the program to adapt it to your daily life. It is very important for me. Every day is different. That’s the power of it, that you can fit your experience into your schedule,” he said.
Frazier said the most important thing he learns is how to be culturally grounded, which for him means taking the time to figure out how to be empathetic.
“It’s about learning how to step out of your comfort zone,” said Frazier, who works with LGBTQ seniors facing end-of-life issues, an area he intends to tackle next. obtaining his diploma. Many of his clients are invalid and need help, he said.
Online MSW students are excited about how the program seeks to achieve the diversity and inclusion goals set out in the ASU Charter wherever they live, said Marcos Martinez, lecturer in the School of Social Work. , online program coordinator.
“We had a student in a Zoom session a few weeks ago. He was along the Yukon River in Canada and talked about creating partnerships there,” Martinez said.
A program for “students everywhere”
Elizabeth Segal, a professor in the School of Social Work, and Melanie Reyes, the school’s lecturer and associate director for student services and programs, as well as Watts College’s senior principal, Jon Pratt, worked closely with ASU Online to create and initially promote the online program in 2014. It went from drawing board to conducting classes in just a few months.
Segal said the school’s faculty wanted the online program to avoid being a subset or ancillary to the school’s existing in-person program. Like the in-person version, the online first-year curriculum is the same for all students, with specialization in courses coming in second year, for a total of 20 courses towards the degree.
“We wanted a program (that would be) for students everywhere and not a step-son (to graduate in person),” said Segal, who added that keeping the cost of the program affordable was also a primary concern.
Reyes and Segal said Pratt also helped garner significant support from college management.
Segal said that overall, the program’s curriculum is designed for people with multiple roles, many of whom live in rural areas where “they have to wear many hats and are involved in many groups and organizations.”
These students often live in areas where a master’s program is not available nearby. The online program allows them to attend classes and participate in internships without having to move.
“What’s amazing is that we had no idea of the potential there,” Segal said. “It proves that it’s a good opportunity for people who can’t move to a campus somewhere and still have the commitment to earn a graduate degree.”
Many students in the program are from Arizona but live outside of cities, she said.
Frazier said he was thrilled to work in the field, calling his degree a “Swiss army knife of the professions” that will enable him to achieve many personal goals.
“It’s more than developing social work skills,” he says. “It’s about being a better human being.”