Social Work



Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

Type of Paper/Work

Banded Dissertation


Robin R. Whitebird


The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) will soon revise the social work education continuum by welcoming practice doctoral programs into membership, leaving community colleges as the only excluded level of higher education in social work. The three connected products in this banded dissertation use critical pedagogy and post-positivist perspectives to explore how and why social work education evolved independently at community colleges, one of the largest, most diverse, and most affordable educational systems in the United States.

Product One employs qualitative historical research to identify the forces which led community colleges and CSWE down separate paths between 1950 and 1975, despite consideration of expansion to include associate degrees in social work. Archived records indicate that differing goals, distrust, identity issues, inattentiveness, and class differences inhibited any on-going relationship between the developing two-year college system and social work’s professional organizations.

Product Two examines the claims of some community colleges that they teach social work. It reveals the existence of Associate in Social Work (ASW) programs at 57 colleges in 24 states and then compares them to accepted standards for social work education to examine whether their programs’ offerings could be recognized as social work education. One-third of ASW program directors completed surveys. Their responses indicate voluntary adherence to 41% of select CSWE standards for Baccalaureate Social Work (BSW) programs. This quantitative, empirical research documents likenesses between some ASW programs and widely-accepted methods of social work education.

Product Three is a presentation delivered at a national conference, the Council for the Study of Community Colleges conference in April 2018, applying ideas from social work education history to the needs of community colleges generally. This presentation suggested that pathways for upward transfer depend on advocates for professional and technical education organizing their efforts, building relationships with powerful gatekeepers, publishing research, and addressing their schools’ actual and perceived weaknesses.

This banded dissertation suggests the possibilities of social work education at community colleges in the United States, belying the long-held belief in a three-level continuum of social work education. ASW programs operate in nearly half the country, and though they could have become part of CSWE, they currently operate autonomously from professional social work organizations. Stakeholders now have the opportunity to evaluate ASW programs and establish mutually beneficial relationships, if they so choose.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.