Skip to main content

ACCREDITATION

TRAINING STANDARDS PROCESS DIRECTORY INFO LEARN MORE

Currently Piloting:

Professional Practice Doctoral Program Accreditation

CSWE and its Commission on Accreditation (COA) are preparing to launch the pilot for the accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs (i.e., DSW programs) in Fall 2021. The pilot application window closed August 31, 2021, and applicants will be notified of whether they were selected for the pilot by October 31, 2021.
 
CSWE’s COA is currently recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit baccalaureate and master’s social work degree programs in the United States and its territories. Before the scope of accreditation can be expanded to include professional practice doctoral programs, the COA must conduct a pilot of the accreditation process in accordance with CHEA requirements. 

What are professional practice doctoral programs?

Social work practice doctorates (i.e., DSW programs) prepare graduates to advance practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels as well as in higher education and/or professional leadership.
 
These doctoral programs educate master’s-level social work practitioners who are graduates of CSWE-accredited programs as doctoral level practitioner-scholars who will develop, translate, and advance social work practice knowledge; engage in systematic inquiry; and apply and disseminate research-informed knowledge, values, ethics, and skills in social work through practice, professional leadership, and teaching.

What does it mean to pilot the accreditation process?

In order for the COA to request a change of scope to include practice doctorate accreditation, a pilot review is required by CHEA. The requirement for the pilot review is to show that “the accrediting organization has the capacity and competence to carry out and sustain the requested change of scope.”  Piloting is not only required by CHEA but is also best practice as it allows COA and CSWE staff to intentionally review each stage in the accreditation process and make adjustments, as needed. This is further aligned with CHEA’s requirement “for the accrediting organization to review its standards to determine whether these accommodate the change or expansion of scope and whether any needed standards revisions are necessary.”
 
Four programs are being selected to participate in the pilot which launches in October 2021 and is scheduled to conclude in 2025. Programs are being selected to emphasize diversity in the pilot. Pilot selection is NOT indicative of program quality or whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.
 
CSWE and its COA recognize the impact the pilot selection process may have on the programs not selected and therefore ask that all professional practice doctoral programs not disclose their selection status to the public. COA, and CSWE staff, will also not be releasing the list of selected pilot programs nor candidacy decisions for the pilot programs to the public until the pilot is complete or an initial accreditation decision is made. 

Once two professional practice doctoral programs are granted initial accreditation, the COA may apply for an expansion of scope with CHEA. The COA is committed to the accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs.

Information for prospective professional practice doctoral program students:

The accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs is currently being piloted and it will be quite some time before accreditation of these programs is the norm. Piloting accreditation processes is standard practice among accreditors and is required by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.  All stakeholders, including licensing boards, are aware of and understand that this is a standard and intentionally incremental process.
 
Whether a program is selected to participate in the pilot is NOT indicative of program quality or whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.  In addition, CSWE staff will not be releasing the list of selected pilot programs nor candidacy decisions for the pilot programs and programs are also asked to not disclose their selection status to the public.
 
Students should be aware that, until accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs is fully implemented, and all existing professional practice doctoral programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, a professional practice doctoral program’s CSWE- accredited status should not be a determining factor in selecting which professional practice doctoral program to apply to. Prospective students should select a program that matches their professional and personal goals. Please review the CSWE/GADE Report on the Current Landscape of Doctoral Education in Social Work for examples of employment opportunities obtained by recent professional practice doctoral program graduates. Prospective programs may be able to provide more detailed information on the specific types of employment opportunities obtained by their graduates. It may also be helpful to inquire with prospective programs regarding the institution’s regional accreditation and whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.

Admissions criteria are determined by each individual program. If the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work, at a minimum, they require that applicants:

  • have earned a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program*; and
  • have a minimum of 3 years of practice experience beyond the master’s degree in social work.

This includes individuals whose degree was recognized as equivalent through CSWE’s International Social Work Degree Recognition and Evaluation Service (ISWDRES) and graduates from Canadian social work programs accredited by CASWE covered by the memorandum of understanding between CSWE and CASWE.

Information for current or former professional practice doctoral program students:

Piloting accreditation processes is standard practice among accreditors and is required by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation.  Stakeholders, including licensing boards, are aware of, and understand, that this is a standard and intentionally incremental process.
 
Only degrees earned after accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs is fully implemented and all existing professional practice doctoral programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, can a non-accredited status carry any significance. Any potential barriers to practice due to doctoral accreditation status are not anticipated until well into the future.
 
Once professional practice doctoral programs receive initial accreditation, their accreditation status cannot retroactively cover or grandfather previous students. The accreditation status obtained at initial accreditation covers the components that were reviewed during the accreditation review process. Therefore, the accredited status applies to those students who started the program in the academic year during which candidacy is granted and beyond. For example, if a program is granted candidacy in Spring 2023, students who started the program in Fall 2022 or later will have graduated from an accredited program, if/when the program receives initial accreditation. See policy 3.1.1 in EPAS Handbook for more details. Accreditation status will not be retroactively effective to previous students and curricula. 

Information for the public regarding the pilot:

Beginning fall 2021 the COA will pilot the accreditation process for professional practice doctoral programs (i.e., DSW programs) in social work. Piloting is an intentionally incremental process. Only once accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs is fully implemented, and all existing professional practice doctoral programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, should a professional practice doctoral program’s CSWE- accredited status be considered when evaluating the qualifications of future professional practice doctoral program graduates. The CSWE-accredited status of professional practice doctoral programs for graduates that complete these programs before accreditation is readily available to programs should not be considered.
 
Additionally, once professional practice doctoral programs receive initial accreditation, a program’s accreditation status cannot retroactively cover or grandfather previous students. The accreditation status obtained at initial accreditation covers the components that were reviewed during the accreditation review process. See policy 3.1.1 in EPAS Handbook for more details. Accreditation status will not be retroactively effective to previous students and curricula. 

What does professional practice doctoral program accreditation mean for professional practice?

The number of professional practice doctoral programs has grown in recent years. In response to questions in the field about how practice doctorate graduates fit within the education continuum, COA partnered with programs, social work educators and leaders, doctoral students, and other constituents to conduct an environmental scan, gather data and feedback, and create accreditation standards. These standards set a minimum threshold for recognizing professional practice doctoral programs as having a level of performance, integrity, and quality expected by the educational community and the constituents the programs serve.
 
Baccalaureate social work programs (accredited by CSWE’s COA since 1974) and master’s social work programs (accredited by CSWE’s COA since 1952, and its predecessor since 1919) maintain their significant and vital place in the continuum of social work education in preparing students for competent social work practice across all system levels (micro, mezzo, and macro) and with diverse clients and constituencies. Bachelor’s programs prepare students for generalist practice while master’s programs prepare students for generalist and specialized practice. Professional practice doctoral programs prepare graduates to advance practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels as well as in higher education and/or professional leadership. You can learn more about the landscape of doctoral education in social work here
 
Neither CSWE, nor its Commission on Accreditation (COA), address / designate a terminal degree for social work education or practice.  For information regarding faculty preparation or regional accreditation requirements for faculty qualifications / credentials, please contact the program’s accreditation specialist for your currently accredited baccalaureate and master’s social work program. The COA and EPAS clearly continue to emphasize the value of master’s level social work preparation for faculty in accredited social work programs as well as for post-degree social work practice.
 
Professional social work licensure post-degree is under the authority of a designated board within each individual state government. Your state government is responsible for regulating licensure and setting criteria required to become a licensed professional social worker. Requirements may differ by state. Contact information for individual state licensing boards can be found on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) website or through an internet search for a licensing board for a particular state. Questions regarding licensure and professional practice should be directed to the board in your state. Questions regarding the national social work licensing exams should be directed to the ASWB, the body that publishes and administers the exams.
 
Please direct questions about the accreditation of professional practice doctoral programs to practicedoc@cswe.org.