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The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

In March, graduate students at the University of Michigan School of Social Work organized a walkout in support of the Payments for Placements (P4P) campaign. The P4P chapter at the University of Michigan calls for all Social Work students to be paid stipends for their degree-required field work. The Michigan Daily spoke with Social Work students and representatives to discuss the ongoing P4P initiative.

All Master’s of Social Work (MSW) students are required to complete a field placement to graduate, which typically amounts to over 900 hours of hands-on work outside of the classroom. Currently, the vast majority of MSW students do not receive payment for their field work. Around 80 community members attended the March 24 walkout to express their frustration and disappointment with the U-M administration for not compensating MSW students.

When asked about the walkout in an April 4 interview with The Daily, Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman said the University does not plan to create a payment system in line with P4P’s demands. 

“That’s not something that’s done nationwide and in social work programs that do these kinds of experiences,” Coleman said. “They’re part of the academic program and not compensated, and the University has no plans to compensate these students here because they are students.” 

In an email to The Daily, Social Work spokeswoman Lisa Raycraft wrote about the importance of field education in social work and outlined the process by which this requirement was created, noting that students in other health sciences fields are not paid for the hands-on learning required by their degree programs. 

“Field education is the signature pedagogy in social work,” Raycraft wrote. “The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the accrediting body for social work, requires a specific number of credit-bearing hours (900 hours minimum) of an educational practicum for the MSW degree. This practice of experiential learning is consistent with other health sciences professional programs at U-M (medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy), in which students at the pre-licensure level are not paid for their clinical training.”

P4P calls on the University to pay MSW students biweekly stipends at an equivalent of $20 per hour while completing their field work. According to Raycraft, around 12% of field placements currently provide stipends, while the vast majority are unpaid.

Social Work student Arie Davey emphasized the importance of providing stipends given the financial difficulties that graduate students entering social work may face in comparison to other fields.

“Medical school students, they can make six figures after graduating and completing residency,” Davey said. “Even though there might be a significant amount of student debt, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of students. Whereas I think with social work students … it is kind of impossible to dig yourself out of that hole.” 

In May 2021, the median annual salary for a social worker in the United States was around $50,000. This can make it difficult for social workers to overcome financial obstacles, especially rising student loans.

P4P conducted a survey in February 2022 to assess the financial burdens of the Social Work student body. Out of 195 respondents, 67% said they rely on student loans to pay their tuition and around 73% said they have taken on other jobs outside of their field placement to support themselves. Additionally, 15% of respondents said they had to take out additional loans instead of finding a job outside of their education due to the large time commitment of field placements. 

A 2020 CSWE report found an increase in student debt for social workers in recent years. According to the report, around 71% of baccalaureate graduates and 73% of Master’s graduates in social work have loan debt.

Raycraft said the Social Work School recognizes that many students face financial challenges, which they are working to address through need-based aid. 

“The School of Social Work prioritizes financial resources toward need-based student support,” Raycraft said. “Seventy-five percent of our students receive some sort of financial aid. Our emphasis on need-based aid was established with the input of students and faculty.”  

Social Work student Matthew Dargay said the University’s decision to not pay Social Work students for their field work has broad and lasting effects. 

“I have known personally of a few people who have had to drop out of this program because of their inability to make ends meet,” Dargay said. “So not only is the University losing out on graduates, but bright young people are losing out on career opportunities. And our state, which has a major shortage of social workers and mental health workers, is losing out on our workforce as well.”

Nearly every county in the state of Michigan, including Washtenaw County, is designated by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) in the area of mental healthcare. HPSA status indicates that a given area does not have sufficient health professionals or resources to serve the population. Davey said they felt that a state experiencing such an extreme shortage should not be undervaluing the contributions of social workers to the community by denying them pay.

“It’s a shame that in the state that really is in a therapy shortage crisis, that social work students are … undervalued for our work,” Davey said. “It certainly can make students feel like it should be normalized that we don’t make a lot of money and … it sends a message that the work we do is not valuable, which is a lie. And I would also say … it’s misogynistic, as well, in this predominantly woman-dominated field.”

While Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman said the University does not have plans to create a direct payment system, the Social Work School is pursuing multiple routes to help students get paid for their field placements. The Social Work School recently created the Joint Task Force on Stipends (JTFOS), a commission composed of students and faculty, including members of P4P, to explore the possible strategies for increasing stipends for field placements. 

“(JTFOS) has engaged with the National Association of Social Workers-Michigan Chapter and other schools of social work in the State of Michigan to influence legislation that would provide state funds to pay student stipends for social work students placed in public schools,” Raycraft wrote. “JTFOS has engaged with the Council on Social Work Education (our accrediting body) to collaborate about student stipends for field education. A field fund at the School of Social Work is being established to increase donor support for student stipends. JTFOS is engaging with field instructors and agencies to develop ways to increase the number of field agencies that provide stipends.”

Dargay said P4P hopes to increase communication with U-M administrators to express their specific concerns. 

“I would love for the representatives of the University system to sit down and meet with Payments for Placements,” Dargay said. “I think that we have a good degree of common ground. I don’t doubt that they have the best interests of their students at heart, and it would be wonderful if we could sit down with them and not just tell them a little bit more about ourselves and the needs of the students we’re close to, but also to hear more from them.”

Davey added that meeting with U-M administrators would also help ensure that the University is staying true to its mission of improving and giving back to the community.

“We haven’t had these conversations yet with central University administrators, which we would really love to have, to sort of meet them where they’re at,” Davey said. “I’m one of many, many students who are doing very real work that is also in a shortage in the state … But to maintain the pipeline of social work students staying in Michigan, which is also an important part of this public university’s charge, we actually really need to address the financial crisis of students on the ground.”

Summer News Editor Samantha Rich can be reached at sammrich@umich.edu.