Photo show three social welfare students. A Black woman with red jacket; white woman with checked jacket; Asian man with navy jacket

The joint MSW and social welfare PhD program prepares students to make significant contributions to social work education and the knowledge base of the profession.

Program Type

Doctoral, Master’s

Program Format

On Campus
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The goals and objectives of both the MSW and social welfare PhD programs reflect the department’s concerns with urban social problems, social and economic equity and well-being, cultural diversity, and the empowerment of individuals, families, organizations and communities to effect change. However, the joint MSW/PhD program extends preparation for practice in the MSW program into training for research in the PhD program.

As a result of rigorous PhD coursework and supervised PhD research, our doctoral graduates have gone on to succeed as independent scholars, policy analysts, and research scientists.

The joint MSW/PhD program offers two tracks — an advanced curriculum for students who hold a BSW earned within the past five years from a CSWE-accredited program and a foundation track for those who do not.

MSW and Social Welfare PhD Program Overview

Objectives of the curriculum include:

  • Providing opportunities for advanced scholarship and research in social work, including partnerships with the wider community
  • Preparing scholars who demonstrate knowledge, skills, values, and ethics of the profession and who are able to serve as future leaders in social work academic and research settings
  • Preparing scholars competent in the development and advancement of knowledge in these disciplines, with particular emphasis on social work intervention as broadly defined

Outcomes and competencies expected of doctoral graduates include:

  • Knowledge of theories underlying intervention approaches used in the student’s discipline
  • Ability to critically analyze theories and knowledge development related to a specific content area
  • Understanding of how knowledge currently is and has historically been developed, disseminated and applied in each discipline and in relation to specific content areas
  • Familiarity with relevant policies, their rationale and their implications for practice
  • Capacity to design and conduct intervention research appropriate to the student’s area of interest, including the capacity to participate effectively in knowledge-building and in applying that knowledge to the development of effective interventions, programs or policies
  • Capacity to develop, utilize and disseminate quantitative, qualitative, mixed, epidemiological, and instrumentation research methods and statistical analysis with relevance to discipline-specific research
  • Furthering the knowledge base of the discipline by conducting research that addresses questions of direct practical relevance and questions involving broad theoretical issues, etiological and epidemiological concerns and large-scale social policy
  • Knowledge, values, ethics and skills essential to teaching and the preparation of future professionals, in addition to those relating to research, scholarship and leadership in the social work discipline

In consultation with the major professor and as soon as possible after admission, each MSW and social welfare PhD student designs a program of study to gain the knowledge and skills appropriate to their educational goals.

All programs of study must include the following classroom courses:

  • One required foundation course in the philosophy of science (SOC WRK 901).
  • Four specialization seminars used to address broader themes by presenting them from the perspective of one of the concentrations. These include one seminar in criminal justice and three in social work. The latter include a class covering the life course model taught by faculty in applied gerontology (SOC WRK 945), a class addressing interventions research taught from within the health and behavioral health concentration (SOC WRK 932), and a class on child and family well-being taught from the perspective of the child and family welfare concentration (SOC WRK 791). Students must take the seminar in their area of focus, plus two others.
  • Six standard classes on research methods and applied statistics, including one quantitative methods class (SOC WRK 951), one qualitative methods class (SOC WRK 952), at least two in-house statistics classes (SOC WRK 961, SOC WRK 962), and two additional classes in either advanced statistics or specialized research methods. These last two classes may be taken inside or outside the school.
  • Three pro-seminars that cover specialized content relevant to research and teaching. These are a course in post-secondary teaching methods (GRAD 801) and two courses within the school on research ethics and grant writing (SOC WRK 990).
  • Two practicum credits (SOC WRK 999) used to expand students’ skills in teaching and research. These are taken in connection with their first teaching assistant and research assistant assignments.
  • Two electives, usually taken outside the school, in areas that strengthen students’ knowledge in their substantive areas of interest. Examples of courses taken on campus include a seminar on social psychology in the psychology department, a program planning course in public health, and a course on social inequality in the sociology department. Examples of courses taken through UWM’s cooperative enrollment arrangements with other campuses include a psychopharmacology course at Marquette University and a maternal and child health course at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

If your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree was earned from an accredited BSW program within the past seven years then you automatically begin in the advanced standing portion of the MSW curriculum and will have 34 credits to complete to earn the MSW degree. These 34 credits include a number of required courses, six credits of electives and three total semesters that will involve field placement (consecutive semesters).

Students who qualify to begin in the advanced curriculum will complete all MSW requirements in four semesters (approximately 1.5 years) including one semester of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the PhD degree will be completed in two additional semesters after that.

Students admitted into the joint MSW/PhD program who have not earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited social work program within the past seven years are required to fulfill 22 credits in the professional foundation prior to the advanced curriculum. (See exemptions tab.)

The purpose of the professional foundation is to orient students to the profession and to provide a knowledge, values and skills base in preparation for the advanced curriculum. Coursework in the professional foundation is not included in the 34 advanced curriculum credits required for completion of the MSW degree.

Students who complete both the foundation and advanced curricula will fulfill all requirements for the MSW degree in seven semesters (approximately 2.5 years), including two semesters of summer study. Requirements for the classroom portion of the PhD degree will be completed in one additional semester after that.

Professional Foundation Classes

  • SOC WRK 604: Social Systems and Social Work Practice
  • SOC WRK 961: Introduction to Statistical Methods (replaces 662 Methods of Social Welfare Research)
  • SOC WRK 665: Cultural Diversity and Social Work
  • SOC WRK 705: Individual Behavior and Social Welfare
  • SOC WRK 708: Social Work Methods I: Individuals and Families
  • SOC WRK 709: Social Work Methods II: Groups, Organizations and Communities
  • SOC WRK 721: Field Instruction I
  • SOC WRK 750: Social Welfare Policy Development and Implementation

Students who have, within the seven years preceding admission, completed coursework that substantially duplicates professional foundation courses may apply to the chair of the Department of Social Work for an exemption from the relevant courses. Exemption examinations are also offered on a scheduled basis for these courses. Exemption of the field experience (SOC WRK 721) may be permitted under special employment experience circumstances and only by permission of the director of field programs. Students interested in securing an exemption should request course exemption forms upon notification of admission to the program.

All requests for exemptions must be made at the time of initial enrollment. Exemption requests will not be accepted following the end of the first semester of coursework.