USC Doubles Down Online

April 22, 2010

Having watched its sister school of education more than quadruple enrollment in its master's in teaching program by going online, the University of Southern California's social work school is now following suit with its own highly ranked master's program in social work.

Like the Rossier School of Education, which took its MAT@USC program to the Internet with the help of 2Tor, a company established by Princeton Review founder John Katzman, USC's School of Social Work is teaming up with 2Tor to create the "Virtual Academic Center," a way to bring its highly regarded MSW program (ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report) to an audience of students who want an elite program but can't and won't move to Los Angeles to get it.

"This will allow us to become a national school of social work, making our program available to a new pool of students at the same level of quality," says R. Paul Maiden, vice dean for academic and student affairs at the USC social work school. "We became convinced that we can do what we now do here in a virtual environment."

Social work is among the disciplines that have been comparatively slow to move online because, like education and nursing, it depends heavily on one-on-one mentoring and practical field work experiences that have been hard to replicate outside the classroom, and beyond local settings.

Those are nuts that 2tor believes it has cracked with its approach to USC's master's in teaching program, with a technology platform that allows for synchronicity between instructors and students and among students themselves, and through an extensive field work network in which 2tor finds places for students to work in physical settings, wherever they are located.

Maiden says that leaders of the social work school carefully examined the experiences of their peers at USC's education school and became convinced that, despite their initial concerns, it would be possible to replicate the quality of their MSW program in a virtual setting.

"Field experience is the signature pedagogy of social work education, where the proverbial rubber hits the road -- about half of our program is internship and practicum," he says. "[2Tor's] ability, as part of what they're doing with us, to find appropriate placements for our students that match all of our guidelines and requirements, was really important to us."

USC's social work school currently enrolls about 900 students in its MSW program. Dean Marilyn Flynn and others there project that the Virtual Academic Center will enroll nearly that many students in its first year, and that it will also enhance the school's newly announced military social work degree, by making it possible for place-bound veterans and current service members and their spouses to enroll, even if, like many in the military, they are moved from place to place.

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