Sunday, April 5, 2009

Social work program ends at CSB/SJU

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Stephanie Drellack credits the College of St. Benedict/ St. John’s University with helping her discover her passion. She said she blames it for not giving others the same chance.

St. Ben’s board of trustees and St. John’s board of regents recently voted to close the social work program despite some students’ concerns.

“When I finally found out, it just felt like we weren’t wanted ... like they were just kind of getting rid of us in a way,” said Drellack, a CSB/SJU junior majoring in social work.

All current social work majors will be able to complete their degrees, but CSB/SJU will not enroll new students in the social work program.

“The costs and the trade-offs required to sustain a viable and larger social work program were substantial,” said Jon McGee, vice president for enrollment, planning and public affairs.

Decision time

The decision to close the program was made after deliberations that began in March 2008. The boards seriously considered the recommendations of the CSB/SJU faculty, provost and presidents, according to McGee.

“The administration said the social work department is no longer aligned with the mission of the college,” Drellack said. “If the social work major does not align with the Benedictine values of service and community, then what major does?”

A protest involving 20 or so CSB/SJU students was held March 13 outside the Great Hall at St. John’s University before last month’s vote on whether to close the social work program.

“Academic departments and institutions routinely review their curricula to ensure that they are positioned to meet current and emerging needs. Those reviews can result in changes in core curriculum, changes in majors and — though considerably rare — program closures,” McGee said.

“There really was no single factor that led to the decision but in fact a host of them. And in closing the program, it doesn’t mean the college is turning its back on the social work discipline; social work is clearly an important field,” he said.

Courteney Ellison, a junior at St. Ben’s majoring in social work, attended basketball camp at the Catholic college in St. Joseph while she was still in high school and fell in love with the private school’s campus.

“I researched the social work program here. It’s accredited, so when you graduate and you decide to continue on to receive your master’s degree in social work, it will only take you a year,” said Ellison, a 21-year-old Golden Valley native.

Declining numbers

The social work program’s accreditation will remain intact while there are students enrolled, and alumni will continue to be recognized as graduates of an accredited program, according to CSB/SJU.

“Two-thirds of the faculty at St. Ben’s and St. John’s recommended keeping the social work program,” said Ellison, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of Minnesota or in Australia.

The school boards agreed with the presidents’ program closure recommendation based on a number of factors, including decreasing program interest.

In 1999, 26 social work degrees were conferred. By 2007, there were seven, and for the class enrolling at St. Ben’s and St. John’s this fall, there were only three people who expressed an interest in majoring in social work, McGee said.

There are 29 students at St. Ben’s and four students in St. John’s currently in the CSB/SJU social work program, according to McGee.

“We do have small numbers, but there are other majors that have small numbers as well. But for me, as a student, I went to this college to be treated as not just a number but as a person,” Drellack said.

Undergraduate

Drellack works as a part-time receptionist at a family-owned insurance agency in Little Falls and decided her first year at St. Ben’s to pursue a bachelor of arts in social work.

“If it wouldn’t have been offered at school, I would have never found it,” Drellack said.

She had intended to be a pre-med student but became hooked on social work after taking an intro to social work class at the Catholic school.

“What really appeals to me is that when I’m working with people or counseling them — and knowing that I have skills and the ability to help them to help themselves — that really makes me feel good about who I am,” Drellack said.

Future plans

One tenured professor in the social work department will continue to work as part of the CSB/SJU faculty but in a different discipline, and two non-tenured faculty members of the department will be able to continue teaching current social work students.

“We are going to honor our commitment to current students so that they can attain their social work degree in an uninterrupted way with the course and the support they need for current social work majors to complete their degrees,” McGee said. St. Cloud Times

I'd bet enrollment in business, accounting and professional majors like Nursing are way up these days.
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