With a $95,000 grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, the Department of Social Work at Fort Hays State University is expanding its Bachelor of Social Work cohort program to Colby Community College and, through Colby’s outreach program, to Norton.
The grant will help fund three years of operations at Colby, beginning in the fall 2019 semester.
The Fort Hays State cohort program began as a creative way to begin correcting shortages of Licensed Bachelor’s Social Workers (LBSWs) in rural Southwest Kansas.
In the program, the Department of Social Work partners with local community colleges to enable students to complete Bachelor of Social Work degrees after earning an associate’s degree through the local college. The local community college then provides a location for FHSU to teach the core social work classes on site.
“This provides an option for western Kansans to earn an FHSU Bachelor of Social Work degree, fully accredited by the Council of Social Work Education, in their local communities,” said Dr. Tim Davis, chair of FHSU’s Department of Social Work.
The department currently has cohorts at Garden City Community College, Dodge City Community College and Seward County Community College, Liberal.
Classes, evening and online, are completed over a three-year period. Students take courses from both core faculty members at FHSU and local professional social workers serving as adjuncts. A full-time cohort coordinator is hired to provide for student recruitment, advisement, and to coordinate the ongoing needs of an offsite location, said Davis.
Students in a cohort start and go through the three-year cycle together. FHSU commits to provide all three years of cohort education on site so that students who start can also finish in the same location.
“We are seeking legislative funding for another location,” said Davis. “If this is granted, we will have funding for additional cohorts, taking the BSW program online and launching a Master of Social Work program focused on training Clinical Social Workers to meet the need for well-trained mental health practitioners in our service area.”
Davis said the clinical nature of the master’s program is especially important because there is no clinical MSW program in Western Kansas.
“Only around 4.5 percent of clinical social workers in the state are in Western Kansas,” he said, “and there is an increasing need for mental health practitioners and not enough out here to meet that need.” He cited as particular factors the growing national opioid crisis and the increasing suicide rates in rural areas
Three other sites are also being considered for cohorts, one in north-central Kansas, another in the south-central part of the state and one in the northeast.
The BSW cohort model has been operated successfully in Southwest Kansas since 2006. They were designed to be delivered in the local community so that non-traditional students and students who were established and committed to their home communities would be able to complete their degrees and maintain their community roots.
“The first three Garden City cohorts graduated 30 BSW students, the majority of whom have remained in Finney County to practice,” said Davis. “These students now make up over half of the LBSWs in the county.”
The Dodge City cohort currently has 13 students who will graduate in 2019 and, said Davis, this graduating class will more than double the number of LBSWs currently in Ford County.
The Liberal cohort, with eight students, was requested by local child welfare agencies who could not fill open professional positions. If all eight finish, said Davis, this class will more than double the number of LBSWs in Seward County.
There are added expenses associated with providing a program in a location distant from the university. The SWKS programs were made possible in part by a fund created by the Kansas Legislature called AccessUs. This fund provides for student scholarships and administrative costs but is restricted for use in Southwest Kansas.
“The need for social workers is also apparent in Northwest Kansas, but it is difficult to operate a cohort program without external support,” said Davis.
The Hansen Foundation grant will be used in a manner similar to the AccessUS funds, said Davis. Students will receive scholarships of $100 per credit hour for the 60 hours of upper division courses taken from FHSU, and funds will also support some expenses such as travel and field trips.
Davis said that Northwest Kansas students have the option of getting a BSW degree at FHSU in Hays, but students who come to Hays often do not return to their home communities.
“In the entire Hansen Foundation service area, there are 166 LBSWs,” said Davis. “The majority of these are concentrated in Ellis and Saline counties.” Of all 1,741 LBSWs in the state, only about 11 percent live in Western Kansas.
The Hansen Foundation’s service area is the 26 counties stretching from Cheyenne down to Wallace County, east through the top three tiers of counties and then into the eight-county block from Jewell and Republic down through Ellsworth and Saline.
“Many rural counties in Northwest Kansas do not have a single practicing LBSW, and 17 counties in the Hansen service area have three or fewer practicing licensed social workers,” said Davis.
The need, he said, extends to the field of addiction counseling. LBSWs who graduate from FHSU can be licensed as addictions counselors (LACs) without taking any additional classes. The Hansen service area has only 57 LACs, and only 16 of those practice outside Ellis and Saline counties.
The lack exists elsewhere also, he said. East of I-135, a 21-county triangle from Rice County to Atchison and Doniphan and north to the Nebraska line is similarly underserved. Jewell County, for instance, has only 1 LBSW and no LACs. Doniphan has two LBSWs and zero LACs. Lincoln County has neither an LBSW or an LAC. Eight of the 21 have zero of one or the other.
“The need is there,” said Davis. “We are exploring every avenue we can imagine to meet that need.”