The Arizona Board of Regents approved a new master of social work (MSW) program at Northern Arizona University at its meeting in Flagstaff last week.

The degree program, which will accept students for the fall 2018 semester will build on the bachelor of social work (BSW) program offered through the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. It will be offered online and, by fall 2019, also at the Flagstaff campus. Administrators said the MSW is the most marketable, most transferable and most requested degree by social service employers.

“Prospective graduate students and regional agency representatives frequently inquire about the MSW degree, and it has been a long-time goal of the Social Work Program to expand our degree offerings to serve this need,” program director Natalie Cawood said. “This degree broadens career possibilities for our graduates and allows for greater opportunities for social work practitioners to serve clients in varied settings.

“By offering the MSW degree, we hope to contribute to the enhancement of the social service workforce, while also maintaining the quality student-centered learning experience for which our program is known.”

There is a real need for this type of training, which, similar to the BSW, will focus on working with diverse populations and is geared toward practice with rural and indigenous populations in the Southwest. This new degree plan also answers the market need for social workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projected the employment of social workers will grow 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, while in the subset of health care, mental health and substance abuse social work, employment is projected to grow 19 percent in the same time period. Both are faster than average growth for all occupations.

The MSW program will be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, building on existing accreditation for the bachelor of social work degree, which is in its 30th year.