GMU Department of Social Work provide additional night time courses for working students

GMU Department of Social Work provide additional night time courses for working students

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Kendall Hunter started this petition to George Mason Department of Social Work

We, the students in the current GMU MSW cohort, are asking the GMU Social Work Department to offer more night classes for their students (beginning in Summer 2021) to allow many of their students to work during the day to fund their continued education at GMU. 

According to Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week and this number is expected to rise each year (Carnevale et al., 2015). The cost of living in Northern Virginia is 18.4% higher than the national average (Hodes, 2019), and in-state and out-of-state graduate tuition has increased by $450 from the 2020 academic year to the 2021 academic year (George Mason University, n.d.). These issues, coupled with the program’s unpaid field work requirements, mean that many MSW students must work one or more jobs to pay for their education and general living expenses. 

In the summer, students are not bound by practicum requirements and are able to work additional hours. Working a part-time or full-time job, compounded by practicum hours and MSW course load, is stressful and can have negative impact on student wellness. According to Flaherty (2018), “graduate students are more than six times as likely to experience depression and anxiety as compared to the general population”. These symptoms can be exacerbated when students are worried about the financial stability (or instability), balancing their workload with their course load, and rearranging their work schedule to fit the MSW course schedule. Working students benefit greatly from taking summer classes to lessen their class load during the school year; however, there are almost no evening classes offered for the Summer 2021 term. The program offers six summer graduate courses; four of which occur between 10 am to 4 pm, one of which begins at 4:30 pm, and one with a time yet to be determined. There are no classes offered 5 pm or later for the Summer 2021 term, which coincides with the traditional time people get off of work. Historically, this tends to be the case for other semesters as well. 

Without the addition of several evening course options in the Summer, Fall and Spring terms and due to the reality of attending school in an area with an extremely high cost of living, students will be forced to choose between their education or supporting themselves financially. With many students now questioning their ability to remain in the program due to these financial constraints, the George Mason Social Work Department may be impacted financially as well as miss the opportunity to shape future social workers.

Unpaid internships paired with limited options for evening courses favor privileged students who can afford to attend school, while discriminating against students who must work for such a lucrative opportunity (Francisco, 2020).  As a profession that prides itself on inclusion and accessibility for all, we are extremely disappointed by the lack of considerations and accommodations that have been made for working students.

We are asking for the Social Work Department to address these complaints and add evening classes for Summer 2021. Additionally, we ask the Social Work Department to pledge to add additional evening classes for all future semesters to support the needs of both working students and all students. 

We appreciate any and all consideration that the GMU Social Work Department dedicates to our concerns. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to future correspondence and an open dialogue in regards to the concerning lack of evening classes.

Respectfully, 

GMU MSW Students and Other Concerned Advocates


Student testimony: 

“I am completely financially independent and my student loans do not cover a majority of my expenses. I could not attend this program without working both of my jobs and the lack of night classes is not only disheartening, but is forcing me to reconsider if I can continue to attend GMU for my MSW. The addition of night classes would not only allow me to continue to work and fund myself, but it would also allow me to continue my education at GMU.”  - 3 year MSW candidate

“It has been difficult for me this academic year to work and engage in the program due to the lack of evening classes. I had to cut back my hours to part-time because there were not enough night course options. It has been stressful to imagine the course load next year (my clinical year), as practicum hours will increase and I still need to support myself financially. I was hoping to lessen the workload by taking summer courses, but the lack of evening class options means I will not be able to work and take summer classes at the same time.” -2 year MSW candidate

“With work schedules, it would be preferable for the MSW program to provide more online, asynchronous, or evening course options. Otherwise it is difficult for individuals who need to work while studying for MSW to balance academic and financial needs.” -3 year MSW student

“I am a two year student and need to work at least a few hours a week to pay my bills. I was hoping to be able to work more than 8 hours a week this semester, but the lack of night classes has prohibited me from doing so. I am dedicated to my education, but need the financial backing to stay in the program as financial aid does not cover everything. I would greatly appreciate the opportunity for more night classes to stay in the program and be able to provide for myself.” - 2 year MSW candidate, generalist year

“As a part time student working a full time job, I understood when I joined the program that I would have to be flexible in my second and third years given the hours that fieldwork requires. The lack of evening classes, particularly in this semester, has made my work/school/life balance nearly impossible to manage and has had a vast detriment to my mental health. I am grateful that I work for an organization that has been flexible with my hours for my classes these past two semesters, but I don’t know how long that understanding will last. Since I have a full time job, my financial aid awards are small and only cover the tuition expenses, making it impossible to live off of. But even so: students should not have to go into life-long debt just to live in this area and attend this program. By not offering paid fieldwork or evening classes, this program is punishing working class students and exacerbating inequities in wealth and income.” - 3 year MSW candidate

“I currently work full time and was encouraged to attend an MSW program by my service direction and colleagues, who consist of LCSWs, LPCs, and psychiatrists. Some of these individuals are alumni and previous faculty members of GMU. I chose GMU because of the in-person program option, it’s reputation, and the convenience of the location. I have worked very closely with my coworkers, supervisors, and agency to rearrange my schedule to fit in with the class options available. I have been very fortunate to have had support thus far. But, with the minimum options for this in-person MSW program, I fear that many other classmates and I will have to stop furthering my education through GMU…”-3 year MSW candidate

References: 

Carnevale, A. P., Smith, N., Melton, M., & Price, E. W. (2015). Learning while earning: The new normal. Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy: The Center on Education and the Workforce. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Working-Learners-Report.pdf  

Flaherty, C. (2018, March 6). Mental health crisis for grad students. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/06/new-study-says-graduate-students-mental-health-crisis 

George Mason University. (n.d.). George Mason University academic year 2020-2021 tuition & rate fees- annual rate. George Mason University’s Office of Strategic Budgeting and Planning. http://budget.gmu.edu/wp-content/uploads/tuition21.pdf 

Hodes, D. (2019, December 11). This is the state of the salary in Northern Virginia. Northern Virginia Magazine. https://northernvirginiamag.com/culture/culture-features/2019/12/09/this-is-the-state-of-the-salary-in-northern-virginia/ 

Francisco, M. (2020, May 5). How the internship industry perpetuates inequity. New America Education Policy. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/how-internship-industry-perpetuates-inequity/  

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