Western New Mexico University’s Bachelor of Social Work degree program topped the Students Before Profits Awards list of 2018 Best Online Bachelor of Social Work.
The Students Before Profits Awards recognize colleges and universities that put students before profits and education before the bottom line. The Nonprofit Colleges Online awards committee chose online social work degree programs from accredited colleges and universities with lower-than-average tuition costs.
WNMU’s Bachelor of Social Work degree is available entirely online and is nationally accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. In the program, students learn about social justice, dignity and the worth of a person. They study how to foster human relationships and create a nurturing environment.
Students are not required to visit the WNMU campus to complete this 120-credit course of study, so most students live in rural areas and work full time jobs and support families. “We’re an option for them,” said Bachelor of Social Work Program Coordinator Prof. Patti West-Okiri.
WNMU’s program originated when one of the Bachelor of Social Work students moved out of state due to her husband being deployed. “She was close to completing and wanted to stay with WNMU. We offered some online classes then and decided to try to help her finish her degree at a distance. Then we had another student who was in a similar situation, and then another. We started offering the Bachelor of Social Work as a fully online option in 2015,” West-Okiri said.
The program has grown from 40 students to 200.
“Now the field is getting a little crowded as many more universities move to online education,” West-Okiri said.
Setting WNMU apart, its Bachelor of Social Work program offers field placements in the students’ communities. A Director of Field Experience and an assistant coordinate placement in agencies, developing agreements and facilitating one-hour zoom conferences weekly. The students are supervised by a licensed master or licensed clinical social worker.
Plus, WNMU’s Bachelor of Social Work program offers a more intimate experience than some. “We keep our classes relatively small compared to other universities. The program has four full-time faculty members, one half-time faculty member, and several adjunct professors, and the students have the same instructors, semester after semester. We’re like a family. I think our students know that we care about them,” West-Okiri said.
About 70 percent of WNMU’s Bachelor of Social Work graduates get hired immediately after finishing their degrees. “Our students always get snatched right up,” West-Okiri said.
While WNMU’s social work programs are on a number of best-of lists, including Top 10 Best Online Bachelor of Social Work Degree Programs on TheBestSchools.org and 50 Most Affordable Small Colleges on topeducationdegrees.org, this ranking means more to the faculty than others. “I think the award is special because putting students first is what we set out to do. It’s part of our mission, not just as a program but as an institution,” West-Okiri said.