Considering Racial/Ethnic Diversity Experience as a Predictor of Success for Graduate Social Work Students
Mollhagen, Amber M.
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Social workers require a unique set of skills, knowledge and values in preparation to work with diverse populations. Graduate social work programs struggle with identifying useful admissions criteria beyond undergraduate GPA. Literature on college diversity has shown that students who have exposure to others who are different from themselves experience enhanced critical thinking skills and strong pluralistic orientation outcomes. As admission decisions are critical to shaping the profession of social work, this study considers students’ college diversity experiences as a predictor of their success in an MSW program. Three multiple regression analyses looking at overall field competency scores (F (13, 545), p < .01), MSW GPA for graduates (F (13, 391), p < .001), and MSW GPA for current students (F (13, 139), p < .001) found that advanced standing status, gender, undergraduate GPA, full-time experience, GRE scores and campus ethnic diversity scores were statistically significant predictors. Additionally two logistic regression analyses looking at critical thinking field scores (χ2(13)= 30.750, p < .05) and field scores in human rights and social justice (χ2(13)= 26.041, p < .05) found that advanced standing status, gender, undergraduate GPA, and full-time experience were statistically significant predictors. A qualitative analysis of five interviews with successful MSW students was also conducted. Undergraduate diversity experiences were present for each student but were under-emphasized for the outcomes of interest. Instead pivotal experiences with injustice both early in life and in college and identification as part of a marginalized group lead to skill and interest development in social work as well as an overall social justice orientation. Success of students identifying as marginalized, in part, was based on access to communities and groups from which they received support, hope, and a sense of belonging. The study is preliminary and associative, and thus does not allow for causal conclusions and is of only one discipline at one graduate program. Future research is suggested on the advanced standing program within social work education as well as critical mass for marginalized students. For practitioners, it is recommended that exposure and interaction with diversity be considered as an additional criterion for graduate social work admissions decisions along with traditionally considered criteria of undergraduate GPA and full-time work related experience. This study looks at different criteria for social work admissions as well as uncovers important student characteristics that help us understand their success in social work graduate studies.