School of Social Work

The mission of the School of Social Work is to advance knowledge and to apply that knowledge to fulfill human potential through the prevention and amelioration of social problems. The school dedicates itself through education, research, and public service to advocate for society while respecting the dignity and achievement of all persons.

Since 2002, the dean of the School of Social Work has worked to improve the school’s performance nationally in terms of its three programs—Bachelor of Arts in Social Work (BASW), Master ofSocial Work (MSW), and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)—its research, and its commitment to the community. Both the dean and the associate dean for research see the strategic plan and assessment as key factors in the school’s success.

Planning, Assessment, and Links to Institutional Goals

To meet its annual and long-term goals, the School of Social Work adopted a specific model to drive improvements. The school focuses on both process and outcome objectives for the following areas: educational content, educational environment/culture, faculty productivity, resource allocation/commitment, and student learning/competence. Depending on the results of the assessment, the school focuses its improvement strategies on fixing areas that need major improvement, maintaining areas in which performance is acceptable, and capitalizing on strong achievements. As a result, improvement activities cover all aspects of the school.

For fiscal year 2008, the school adopted the Provost’s recommended template to monitor its progress along each of its major goals. To reach those goals, the school shaped strategies, defined assessment criteria, measured impact, planned evaluations, and forged connections between its annual plans and the goals of the University. The goals, analysis, and findings are reviewed by faculty on various committees and at retreats, by students, and by advisory committees (i.e., the Board of Visitors and the Executive Council). The school’s process and outcome objectives, resource allocation to achieve the goals, and evidence feedback system (i.e., outcome data collection, analysis, and evaluation protocol) lead to evidence-based planning for the next fiscal cycle.

The dean and associate deans have acknowledged the time and commitment of faculty and staff in this process. Administrators believe that this process has built a culture of assessment by effectively reminding the school community of its goals, empowering faculty and staff to actively contribute to change and improvement, and providing a foundation for mutual respect at all levels.

Using Assessment in Planning, Program Development, and Resource Allocation

Because the process is transparent and all individuals are involved in the process, the School of Social Work has seen change over the past decade. For example, not only have faculty publications increased, but the involvement of PhD students in contributing to refereed articles has substantially increased, too, leading the school to be ranked fourth in the nation in publications as of 2009 (from 42nd a decade ago).

The school has found that its focus on assessment and improvement has shifted over the past decade from addressing serious deficits to maintaining good practices (e.g., offering pilot study funding, proposal development consultation, and rigorous hiring of faculty) and advancing good work to the next level (e.g., providing feedback regarding achievements to all faculty, maintaining scholarship support, and continuous discussion of the school’s vision).

In terms of resource allocation, the plan has been effective in ensuring that the school hires new faculty members who will contribute to the goals of the school (i.e., publishing, doing research, securing external funding, and teaching effectively). Because of this approach, the school is ranked 14th among the 177 graduate schools in social work (as reported by U.S. News & World Report, 2012). The dean and associate deans believe that the school should be ranked higher, given the high productivity of its faculty. They intend to see that the school achieves its desired top 10 ranking. For the past eight years, the school has focused primarily on improving faculty and the PhD program as well as starting the school’s Center on Race and Social Problems. The dean has noted that now that deficits in these areas have been successfully addressed, the next area of heavy emphasis will involve enhancing undergraduate enrollment.

Benchmarking Data in the Assessment Process

For the School of Social Work, it has been more of a challenge to provide strong benchmarking data compared to other schools (e.g., business, law, engineering, medicine). In fiscal year 2002, the school made an initial attempt to benchmark against two aspirational peer schools and three peer schools, specifically in faculty workload, field instruction, and advising. Notably, the Provost indicated a need to develop more useful benchmarks. In fiscal year 2003, the school provided initial benchmarking data for eight to 10 highly ranked schools for diversity, selectivity into programs, journal publication, and sponsored research.

However, for several fiscal years (fiscal years 2003–06) afterward, benchmarking data was limited to internal trends of the school. This internal tracking was helpful to the school, as itemphasized a need to continue to increase journal publications by 10 percent annually.

Under annual insistence by the Provost, in fiscal year 2007, the school began to provide not only its internal tracking data but also national benchmarking data for admission rates, diversity, and scholarship. Beginning in fiscal year 2008, the school procured a service offered by its accrediting organization (Council on Social Work Education) to provide information on its benchmark schools. This benchmarking service has allowed the school to see and demonstrate its achievement, particularly in the area of refereed journal publications over the past decade as well as its ratings overall to include the number of tenure-track faculty among the top 10 schools in the country. This service shows that the school has the second fewest tenure-track faculty of the top 10 schools; regardless of its size, the school has improved its rankings according to benchmark data.

Improving and Refining a SustainableAssessment Process

The School of Social Work is confident inthe accuracy of its findings because measurementis triangulated and major outcome finding sare stable. For example, the school has verified its publication rate to match the accrediting agency’s benchmarking service. The school also conducts assessments to look at student subgroups when evaluating data for improvements. Specifically, assessment is viewed through multiple lenses of gender, race, age distribution, and full- or part-time status as well as concentration and major. This secondary cut on data analysis further strengthens the meaning of the results.

The school’s quality assurance system includes all levels of the school, involves several assessment instruments to triangulate student data, and investigates and maintains the non-student-related data. As a result, the school has streamlined most of its instruments over the past few years. For example, the alumni questionnaire is currently six pages long. Not all the questions have been used in the feedback process, so the school is reducing the questionnaire to two pages to improve response rates. Because the school is achieving success for many of its goals, it is considering staggering the years of assessment of successful ventures to emphasize the development and assessment of new ventures.