"Master's degree programs in social work are high demand programs. They're very popular," said Dr. James Patrick Mace, chair of the Department of Social Work. "We expect a lot of demand for the degree. The bachelor's degree program has been here at Pan American since the late 1960s. We have graduated 550 bachelor's degree social workers in the last 10 years. Many of them are prime candidates for this master's degree program.
"The lower Rio Grande Valley has been underserved...in terms of graduate programs," he said. "The professional academic training of social workers has been lacking in the Valley because of not having a master's degree available. It has put a cap on professional career development for many people, because the nearest program is in San Antonio. That's quite a commute to get a master's degree. Most people would have to quit their jobs and leave home to do that."
Only four other universities in Texas have accredited master's degree programs in social work — UT Austin, UT Arlington, the University of Houston and Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.
The UT Pan American MSSW degree will have an emphasis on working with Latino families.
"The real strength of this program is that we will be training, for this area and for the rest of the country, a large group of bilingual, bicultural master's degree social workers," Mace said.
The master of science in social work (MSSW) is a two-year, 60-hour degree program.
"It's a very intensive program," he said. "With social work, CSWE mandates that you must have a full-time, two-year program as the basis for other modes of delivery. Full-time is 15 hours a semester for four semesters. There will also be a part-time program and an advanced standing program.
"The first year of the program is what we call basic generalist practice in social work, designed to give people the basic social work skills that they need to work with people at a general level. It is essentially equal to what people would have if they went through a bachelor of social work program. It brings them up to that level. The second year of the program is what we call the concentration year. That year is a focused year of intensive study.
"What's nice about the two-year program is that you don't have to have a bachelor's degree in social work to enroll," he said. "Anyone with a bachelor's degree can enroll in the program if they meet what is essentially the general liberal arts requirements. That's the strength of the two-year program, people with psychology degrees or sociology degrees, people in business, teachers — those people can enroll in the social work program and can have an MSSW at the end of two years."
For students who already hold a bachelor's degree in social work, the program will have an advanced standing program.
"If their grade point average is good enough, students with a BSW degree can go straight into the second year of the program," Mace said. "They only have to take two courses (before entering the advanced standing program) that we feel are necessary, and our plans are to offer those two courses next summer before the regular semester starts. For people with a bachelor's degree in social work, they can earn their master's degree in nine months — two semesters plus one summer session. For most of the people with BSWs, getting a leave of absence for nine months is doable."
Current plans call for the department to offer the first year of study beginning this fall.
In the late 1980s, UT Arlington and UT Pan American offered a cooperative master's degree program in social work here. Students attended classes in Edinburg on Friday evenings and Saturdays, and did a semester of study in Arlington.
In October 1994, UT Pan American received approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer its own graduate program in social work, but difficulties in gaining immediate accreditation from CSWE led to students in the program transferring their credits to UT Arlington and completing their degrees in a wholly UT Arlington program taught on the Edinburg campus. The first of those students are expected to graduate with a degree from UT Arlington this summer.
"There were problems with the initial startup of the program, but we appear to be on track at this particular point in time because of this approval from the Council on Social Work Education, which was the obstacle in the previous attempt to start a master's program," Mace said. "'Candidacy status' was the stumbling block before, and we've cleaned up that problem and squared it away. Now we need to obtain full accreditation."
Candidacy status from CSWE is the first step in the accreditation process.
"We still have to hire faculty and enroll students, but we've been allowed to start our program, and we essentially have up to three years to prove to the Council on Social Work Education that we can mount an MSSW program and meet their accreditation standards," he said.
"Each year that we are in candidacy, we'll have a site visit in which a commissioner from the Commission on Accreditation of the Council on Social Work Education will visit and assess what kind of progress we're making toward full accreditation. At the end, when we're granted full accreditation, we will not be reviewed again until four years later, at which time we will have to mount another accreditation effort and be reviewed again. After that, we're good for eight years at a time between accreditations."
For more information on the MSSW, call the Department of Social Work at 381-3575.
NOTE: Dr. James Patrick Mace came to UT Pan American after serving as dean of faculties of social science at Hong Kong Shue Yan College. He earned his doctoral degree from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Social Welfare and his bachelor's degree and master of social work degree from West Virginia University School of Social Work. He has taught at California State University, Long Beach, UCLA, West Virginia University, The University of Alabama and Hong Kong Shue Yan College.