Standing in an office, a Black female in a gray sweater with short braids and hoop earrings holds a notepad.
The partnership enables social workers to earn their degrees while continuing to work.

Workforce development grants help employees from underrepresented groups pursue their Master of Social Work while continuing to work full time and serve their clients.

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is the ticket to career advancement for social workers. But routinely long hours on the job, heavy caseloads and the cost of tuition can present obstacles to those employed full time. Thanks to grants from The New York Community Trust, however, the Adelphi University School of Social Work (SSW) is partnering with two New York-based nonprofit agencies to give nine employees the opportunity to return to school so they can do just that, while also enhancing their skills. This cohort is in the process of earning their BSW and MSW degrees at the SSW—and one will graduate in May.

In June 2022, The New York Community Trust awarded $200,000 to Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children & Family Services for Dowling Adelphi Reimagined Education (DARE) and $500,000 for CAMBA Inc. (originally Church Avenue Merchant Block Association). These programs support Adelphi’s workforce development goals, said Schanica Pickens, assistant dean of student affairs and director of the MSW program for the School of Social Work. “Workforce development is really becoming a staple of ours because we need to be able to enhance the work that the existing agencies are doing: pouring back into their staff and affording them the opportunity of furthering their education to obtain a graduate-level degree,” Pickens said.

Financial Support

At Harlem Dowling-West Side Center for Children & Family Services, a nonprofit child welfare agency that provides comprehensive services to children and families in New York City, the grant initially supported four individuals from BIPOC communities already working at the agency. Karen Dixon, the agency’s deputy executive director, said that one of these students will graduate in May and two more will graduate in December 2025.

Dixon said the Harlem Dowling grant has been helpful to her staff since, as a small nonprofit organization, they’re not able to provide employees with tuition assistance. She said the grant is currently supporting three students at about $29,000 each and Adelphi has reduced the per-credit cost. The grant also pays for books and emergency situations like transportation.

CAMBA’s $500,000 grant supports seven employees who work in the nonprofit agency’s single adult and family shelters. Carol Rubinstein, special projects coordinator for the grant, said that many of the CAMBA students are returning to school after a 10-year or more gap.

Harlem Dowling and CAMBA School of Social Work students get additional support from Pickens and her staff, which includes a student affairs coordinator and a doctoral student who provides peer tutoring. They hold regular check-in meetings with the students to support their social-emotional experience in the program, she said.

Empowered by Education

Pickens said that helping students to be a part of workforce development increases their productivity when they can bring what they’re learning back to their agencies.

Rubinstein concurred. “Working in the homeless shelters is challenging and this program has allowed our staff to increase their skills, learn theories and be able to apply them to their work,” she said. “They have also learned to self-reflect, evaluate their practice and relate it to the present, and for our management folks, how they try to teach their staff.”

Dixon’s employees include a director of after-school services and two who have experience in child welfare. She said attending Adelphi has allowed them to look at their work differently. “They approach it from a space of quality as opposed to compliance and having more introspection to what is happening,” she said. “I also think it has allowed them to clarify their goals. Two of them were promoted from case planner to conference facilitator and these were goals that they set in year one with their coach. I think it’s really given them a lot of insight into how to deliver services better and what type of work they may want to go into thinking about their postgraduate life.”

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