Graduate students at the University of Michigan School of Social Work walked out of their classes Monday morning and gathered on the Diag to rally for Payments for Placements (P4P). This is a student campaign demanding that the University begin compensating Master of Social Work (MSW) students for their internship work; around 80 members of the campus community attended the walkout.
In 2017, MSW students, Social Work alumni and social workers started a petition calling for fair compensation for their field work. Most recently in January, MSW students submitted a petition with over 300 student signatures to Social Work Dean Joseph Himle and other Social Work administrators calling on the University to fund their degree-required internships.
Currently, the majority of MSW field work positions are unpaid even though the Council on Social Work Education requires that MSW students across the U.S. complete 900 hours of field work during their master’s program. SSW spokeswoman Lisa Raycraft confirmed that at the University, non-advanced standing MSW students must complete 912 hours of field work to get their degree. However, MSW students with advanced standing — those who come into the University with a BSW — only have to complete 684 hours during their three semester program.
At the protest, several MSW students expressed their frustrations with the lack of compensation for their field work, which they claim has impacted their mental health and ability to afford housing.
Anjelica Abraham, a MSW student and one of the speakers at the walkout, told the crowd that balancing a paid job with her unpaid field work causes a lot of stress. Abraham said she is currently working to complete her field work at Kids-TALK Children’s Advocacy Center in Detroit, which involves an 85-mile commute.
“I’m tired of having to juggle two part-time jobs on top of class work, on top of field (work) and with an 85 mile round trip multiple times a week,” Abraham said. “I’m tired of working 12 hours a day, six days a week.”
Other students within the Social Work School shared Abraham’s frustration. A survey conducted by the P4P leaders found that 83% of respondents worked additional jobs on top of the required field work.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, Dan Fischer, assistant dean of field education in the SSW, wrote that unpaid field work does not violate the U.S. Fair Labor and Standards Act which helps protect workers’ rights. Fischer emphasized that the field work is primarily intended to academically support the MSW program by providing students with hands-on experience before receiving their degree.
“Students are unlicensed professionals and would not be able to engage in MSW-level work,” Fischer wrote. “Field placements also provide opportunities for students to discover new ideas or to think about themselves and their own values, prejudices, and attitudes towards others while learning to manage emotions and feelings within real-world settings.”
Other programs at the University provide stipends for students to compensate for their work. The Ford School of Public Policy offers funding for Master of Public Policy students with low-paying or unpaid internships — 60% of MPP students receive funding from Ford School partnerships or other U-M resources. Similarly, the University of Michigan Law School guarantees up to a $6,500 stipend for second-year law students who take summer internships with government agencies or public interest organizations.
MSW students are not the only master’s students who are not paid for field work. Fischer wrote that other master’s programs in the health sciences at the University also do not provide monetary compensation for clinical work.
“No other health sciences professional program at U-M, including medicine, nursing, dentistry and pharmacy, pays students for clinical training recognizing the critical impact of experiential learning,” Fischer wrote.
P4P co-Chair Arie Davey told the crowd it’s not fair for the University to fund internships for graduate students in other schools, but to refuse to pay MSW students for their required field work.
“Why not pay Social Work students doing some of the same work that MPP students do?” Davey said. “We’re not taking this mistreatment sitting down. We’re fighting.”
In 2022, the University invested over $54 million in the Law School, which has 313 enrolled 1L students, and about $29 million in the Social Work School, which has 500-700 enrolled MSW students depending on the term.
Matt Dargay, the Social Work School representative on Central Student Government and co-chair of P4P, said the University’s underinvestment in the SSW might be one reason MSW students do not receive compensation for internships, while law and other graduate students do.
“Social Work, not just across the University system, but across the whole country, is underinvested in because it’s difficult to run a profit off of it,” Dargay said. “Social Work really is about caring for people fundamentally.”
Ahead of the March 22 CSG meeting, Dargay sponsored a resolution that would have CSG formally endorse P4P’s goal to support equitable payment for field work completed by MSW students. CSG will be voting on the resolution at their meeting on Tuesday. Though the CSG resolution and P4P’s previous petition did not specify a pay rate for MSW students, Dargay shared his personal thoughts on what equitable compensation might look like.
“What (I am) asking for is an equivalent of $20 an hour,” Dargay said.
MSW student Harrison Parker, who is graduating from the Social Work School in July, is currently completing his field work with a Social Work School professor. Though he does receive a stipend for his work, he said his spouse is the primary earner in their household.
“If I didn’t have her … I don’t know how I would live (in Ann Arbor), I don’t know how I would put food on the table,” Parker said.
At Monday’s protest, MSW students stressed the financial insecurity they face for the lack of compensation for their field work, but they remained optimistic about the progress being made.
In their press release about the walkout, P4P announced that they had partnered with Social Work School administrators to launch the Joint Task Force on Stipends to look into how other universities compensate Social Work students for their field work. The creation of this task force was one of the goals outlined in the petition they submitted in January.
Still, Dargay said he believes there is more work for P4P and all MSW students to do; collaborating with the Graduate Employees’ Organization was suggested as a possible next step.
“In order to really put this to the regents’ attention, we need to take it to the next level,” Dargay said. “A great way to do that is for us MSW students to sign up as members of GEO … (The walkout) might not be the last time that we make our voices heard in a public sort of fashion. If that’s what we need to do, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Daily News Contributor Alec Hughes can be reached at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated the field work requirements for MSW students at the University are set by National Association of Social Workers. The SSW adheres to the 900+ hour requirement set by the Council on Social Work Education.