In 2010, the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work saw the world's growing need for more social workers, and we challenged ourselves to find new ways to educate the field's future leaders. We led the charge — redefining the paradigm of social work education by launching the MSW@USC, the first online Master of Social Work degree from an elite research university.
The Dean's Gamble
Every day, it seems, we hear about innovations that will change the way we process information, communicate and learn. Five years ago, however, higher education was not seen as a field that could make meaningful use of technology. Social work education, in particular, was ripe for reinvention.
Marilyn Flynn, dean of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, saw an opportunity to bring social work education into the 21st century. She partnered with 2U, a company that enables leading colleges and universities to deliver their high-quality degree programs online. Together they created a premier national MSW that matches the academic rigor and quality of the school's on-campus master's program.
Then and Now
- United States
- South Korea
"I can say 100% that I am more successful and more well-rounded now because of my experiences with USC and the people that I met and the partnerships I have made by pursuing the MSW@USC."
—Corrine St. Thomas, MSW@USC Graduate
A Breakthrough Experience
Much of the success of the MSW@USC can be attributed to the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work’s uncompromising belief that the academic rigor and student experience of the online program should equal that of the on-campus program. To ensure this, the school has leveraged tools and techniques to create an unprecedented online community — one that offers students the interaction, support and collaboration they would not find in any other web-based MSW.
MSW@USC students attend live weekly classes led by USC faculty. They also complete coursework designed to bring class discussions to life, such as video lectures and case studies. Some case studies, such as "Abby," offer students the chance to follow a single client from childhood to adulthood across a full semester.
Students are supported from the moment they request information about the program through graduation and beyond. Students have access to:
MSW@USC students often speak of their surprise at the level of social engagement in the program. Through the online classroom, students and faculty are able to build relationships and collaborate 24/7. The online campus also offers students the chance to start and join groups with others who share similar interests or schedule in-person meetups.
"I think what's made the biggest difference in terms of virtual teaching is the level of interaction. I find the students come to class well prepared and attentive and eager to learn. Professors are able to create a more captivating experience by interspersing videos and YouTube clips into their live discussions, in addition to bringing in the school's leading researchers for cameo appearances. It's a wonderful way to present concepts and provide that interactive experience that is engaging and lively for students."
—June Wiley, Director of the Virtual Academic Center
A Change in the Field
Field education is the foundation of any MSW program, but is also one of the most challenging aspects of bringing a program online. One of the great differentiators of the MSW@USC program is our placement team, which finds internships in students' own communities. This means our students — across the country and even around the world — can gain hands-on experience locally as they build valuable professional relationships in a location that matters to them: home.
Field Placement By the Numbers
Cumulative community-based placements
Cumulative fieldwork hours
Field instructors used
Cumulative student fieldwork hours
Virtual Field Practicum
Leveraging the MSW@USC's virtual learning environment, the Virtual Field Practicum (VFP) serves as a precursor to the live experience with actual clients. The only program of its kind, VFP allows students to master clinical skills and build confidence before they ever set foot in a professional setting.
Total VFP placements all time
Hours of VFP all time
Online sessions happen in the virtual classroom.
Live actors portray clients in real-life clinical situations.
Students participate in small group sessions with classmates.
Experienced professors monitor sessions.
"The interns that come from USC are top-notch. They have a great understanding of our population because of the military sub-concentration that USC has. In addition, the VFP is also a benefit because those interns come in with a level of comfort and skills that not every institution has for their MSW interns."
—Vicki Lane, Regional Clinical Social Worker and Field Supervisor, Hope For The Warriors
We have found success with the MSW@USC, but that doesn’t mean we stopped evolving the program. As time goes on, we learn of tools and innovations that can make the online learning experience even better for our students and our faculty.
Military Social Work Specialization
The Military Social Work program is the first of its kind offered online. The specialization is open to all students who wish to work closely with service members, veterans and their families to help them face challenges unique to military life.
Seneca MSW@USC, First Embedded MSW
In 2014, we partnered with Seneca Family of Agencies to offer the first Master of Social Work degree program within a child and family services agency. It gave Seneca employees the chance to earn a highly respected MSW using USC’s online learning platform while gaining real-world social work experience at their own agency. The Seneca MSW@USC is also offered on an advanced standing basis for candidates who hold a Bachelor of Social Work.
Because the MSW@USC is delivered online, we have been able to grow our faculty by leaps and bounds. Professors from across the country, who bring a wealth of expertise and experiences, are logging in every week to meet with students live in the virtual classroom — no matter where they live.
"After teaching on the ground for over 20 years, I am impressed at how effective the online experience is, not only for teaching and learning, but for creating an informed participatory intellectual community. This is the platinum standard for education in the future. Those that said it couldn't be done now witness the power of what is being done through the MSW@USC online program. The future of education is here and now!"
—Michael Rank, Clinical Associate Professor
An Online Program With Stellar Outcomes
Today, the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work is the largest and most influential school of social work in the country. Our innovations in program delivery, curriculum and field education are changing the way other schools think about social work education — and what students are looking for in a program. We are proud to be preparing confident, competent social workers who are making a difference in communities around the world.
Our Growing Influence
MSW@USC: What's Next
As the MSW@USC program grows, we continue to innovate and evolve.
"One unique and powerful facet of this program is the ability to network, learn from, and interact with like-minded social workers and professors from all around the world. Without having to relocate, students now have an opportunity to make a direct impact in their own communities with the skills and tools learned from one of the country's top social work programs."
—Ashley Rhodes-Courter, MSW@USC Graduate