||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
UW-Eau Claire, U of M Work Together To|
Offer Social Work Master's Program
MAILED: Dec. 17, 1998|
For years, a full-time job and a family in Eau Claire kept Rebecca Snyder from pursuing one of her personal and professional goals to earn a master's degree in social work.
"Mostly, it was for personal satisfaction," Snyder said of her desire to earn an advanced degree. "I wanted to set an example for my children and grandchildren. Also, in Eau Claire there aren't many jobs in this field with just a bachelor's degree. But for lots of reasons, it was impossible for me to go to school somewhere else."
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire social work faculty has known for years that there are many helping professionals in western Wisconsin in situations similar to Snyder's, said Nicholas Smiar, department chair. But because of resources, politics and a host of other factors, there was little his department could do to help.
That changed this year thanks to an arrangement between UW-Eau Claire and the University of Minnesota that allows students to earn master's degrees in social work from the U of M while attending classes via distance education at UW-Eau Claire.
"It's perfect because we can meet one of our department goals which was to prepare our students for lifelong learning and graduate education," Smiar said. "We now have a graduate education opportunity in place for students who are rooted here and can't travel to other cities. This is very exciting for us."
Classes mostly originate at the Twin Cities campus, with U of M faculty teaching them, said Nancy Johnston, director of graduate studies at U of M. Via interactive television (two-way audio/video), classes also are offered at UW-Eau Claire and Moorhead State University, she said. At least once a quarter, classes originate from UW-Eau Claire, giving students in-person interaction with instructors, she said, noting that students from all three sites meet twice a year at U of M. Next year, courses also will be offered at a site in Rochester, Minn., as had been done in the past.
The faculty, instruction and course work are the same as that offered in regular classrooms, and students at distant sites earn the same degree and meet the same requirements as students on the Twin Cities campus, Johnston said. A U of M coordinator, Diane Brandt, works part-time out of an office in the UW-Eau Claire social work department, serving as a liaison between students and the U of M, she said, noting that the coordinator also is on site during all class sessions.
A survey of western Wisconsin social workers indicated interest was high in a locally-housed master's program, Smiar said, noting that area social workers with bachelor's degrees can find entry-level jobs but can't move into other often better paying positions without a master's degree. The interest in the program, coupled with UW-Eau Claire's undergraduate social work program that graduates 70 students a year, convinced U of M officials that there is a large enough pool of potential applicants to make Eau Claire a good program site, Smiar said.
Thirteen students enrolled in the two-year program this year, with students coming from places like Bloomer, Rice Lake and Eau Claire, Smiar said. To apply, students must have an undergraduate degree in social work from an accredited social work program, he said.
Students meet at UW-Eau Claire each Saturday during the U of M's 10-week quarter. In future years, classes will be scheduled Friday nights and Saturdays. The part-time program takes two years to complete.
"For people who are working full- or part-time, it seems to fit really well," Jessica Toft, a social work instructor from the U of M, said of the weekend program.
The arrangement has benefited U of M students as well as students in western Wisconsin, Johnston said. Most students at the Eau Claire site are seasoned professionals, many with experience working in rural areas, she said.
"The interaction and class discussions have been wonderful," Johnston said. "It's a real benefit to the students at the Twin Cities campus to learn about rural issues from people who have worked in the field for some time."
Also, she said, 27 percent of the students at the Twin Cities campus are minorities, which gives the Eau Claire-based students additional opportunities to interact with people of color.
What makes the program so exciting to UW-Eau Claire is that it can offer a quality master's program to social workers in western Wisconsin many of them graduates of the university at virtually no cost to UW-Eau Claire, Smiar said. UW-Eau Claire provides a distance education classroom but the U of M a leader in distance education pays all costs associated with it, he said. And because U of M faculty teaches the courses, it doesn't drain UW-Eau Claire's faculty in terms of time or focus, he said.
"It's almost like a landlord-tenant relationship," he said. "There is no negative impact on our very strong bachelor's program. It's the best of both worlds for us."
The arrangement between institutions from two different systems in two states may be the first of its kind in the country, Smiar said, noting that the inter-state nature of the program caused fewer problems than he had expected. "It's consistent with our mission and U of M considers it consistent with its mission," Smiar said. "There was no reason not to move ahead with it. It's exciting and innovative."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Dec. 17, 1998