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Question: Who Accredits Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Programs?

Answer: The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the sole accreditation body for baccalaureate and master’s in social work programs, including online Master of Social Work (MSW) programs. The CSWE provides accreditation to online MSW programs that meet professional training standards for coursework and field education in social work, and that fulfill other conditions involving faculty qualifications, administrative integrity, institutional resources, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

What is the Council on Social Work Education?

The Council on Social Work Education, or CSWE, is in its own words, “the national association representing social work education in the United States.” It is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the sole accrediting agency for social work baccalaureate and master’s degree programs in the United States. The CSWE’s Council on Accreditation (COA) develops and oversees accreditation standards for Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) and Master of Social Work (MSW) programs, as well as for other degree granting programs that provide professional training in social work, including Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) and Master of Science in Social Administration (MSSA) degree programs.

CSWE Accreditation Standards

The CSWE accreditation process includes site visits and reviews by the COA, as well as self-assessments conducted by social work programs prior to receiving accreditation. The standards for accreditation are outlined in the CSWE’s Education Policy and Accreditation Standards for Baccalaureate and Master’s Social Work Programs, which delineates four key areas of concern: social work competencies; program mission and goals; explicit curriculum; and implicit curriculum.

There are nine competency areas programs must address:

  • Competency 1: Demonstrate ethical and professional behavior.
  • Competency 2: Engage diversity and difference in practice.
  • Competency 3: Advance human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice.
  • Competency 4: Engage in practice-informed research and research-informed practice.
  • Competency 5: Engage in policy practice.
  • Competency 6: Engage with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
  • Competency 7: Assess individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
  • Competency 8: Intervene with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
  • Competency 9: Evaluate practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.

In order to receive accreditation, BSW and MSW programs must submit a mission and goals statement aligned with what the CSWE defines as the core values of social work. These values include a commitment to community service, social justice, professional integrity, human rights, and the scientific inquiry.

A program’s explicit curriculum encompasses all didactic instruction and field education, and it must be in keeping with the core values of social work while addressing the nine competency areas outlined by the CSWE. The implicit curriculum is defined as the learning environment, and it is assessed based on the program’s commitment to diversity, as well as its admissions policies, faculty qualifications, administrative structure, and overall resources. Finally, the CSWE requires accredited programs to undergo periodic assessments of educational outcomes and provide data that demonstrates the effectiveness of the program’s curriculum.

Benefits of CSWE Accreditation

In general, accreditation by an organization recognized by CHEA provides a level of assurance that the program in question meets certain basic standards for academic training and instruction in a particular field or discipline. CSWE accreditation serves as an indication that a bachelor’s or master’s in social work program upholds the core values of the profession and has the means to prepare students for careers in the field.

CSWE accreditation lends credibility to a program and to students who graduate from that program. This can be an important factor in career advancement, especially for those who intend to become Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs). Most states require applicants for licensure to hold an MSW degree from a CSWE-accredited program. There are also advantages to attending a CSWE-accredited BSW program, as there are Advanced Standing MSW programs that allow graduates from CSWE-accredited BSW programs to effectively skip the first year of an MSW program.

The CSWE provides a number of additional resources about the accreditation process for social work degree programs and publishes a directory of accredited programs on its website.

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