Indiana has a shortage of social workers with master’s degrees, and it is particularly acute in rural areas struggling with the opioid crisis.

In 2018, before the pandemic, Indiana ranked 10th in the U.S. for addiction rates, fourth for prescription opioids per capita, and fourth for overdose deaths. Rural Indiana communities are facing an even greater struggle amid the pandemic with the increased isolation and financial stress.

Furthermore, several studies by Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research found that rural residents are hurting from a lack of job opportunities, access to medical care, and a dwindling population base.

Although Indiana is among the highest states for addiction and mental health services need, it has one of the lowest treatment capacities, according to a recent study. Ninety-five percent of mental health professionals surveyed reported that they were not able to meet the needs of their communities, while 90 percent said it was difficult to recruit and retain qualified professionals.

The need for clinical social workers, non-profit administrators, and program developers in rural communities has reached new levels during the public health crisis.

Fortunately, Ball State University’s new master of social work (MSW) program trains social workers to solve complex problems and provide addictions and mental health treatment in areas where they are most needed.

Most MSW programs have students pick a particular track, but in rural communities, social workers need to be a jack-of-all-trades. When MSW students graduate from our program, they will be able to do clinical work, develop programs, manage employees, run the business, and evaluate the program’s efficacy.

The MSW at Ball State has a special focus on rural communities with heavy emphasis on clinical addictions, non-profit management, gerontology, and health. Our program prepares people to solve complex problems and provide leadership in diverse settings. We have adapted the curriculum in real-time to meet the challenges of COVID-19 too. Students are trained in tele-social work best practices and finding solutions during times of unpredictable change.

Our classes are designed around busy working professionals’ schedules. Our classes are offered in a blended format—mixing online and in person—one night per week, even for full-time students.

We are proud of our facilities in the brand new, state-of-the-art Health Professions Building, which includes simulation labs, professional clinics, and technology-rich classrooms. In simulation labs, students can perform psycho-social assessments and benefit from the interprofessional education (IPE) offered by the College of Health. In IPE, students learn to collaborate with other aspiring health care professionals from other disciplines, such as future nurses and speech pathologists.

We believe that students learn best by doing, so every course is focused on preparing competent, professional social workers who are ready to work. We do this through simulations, case studies, immersive experiences, supported risk-taking opportunities, and mentoring.

When our students have completed their work and receive their degrees, they will be ready to assist their communities in order to make rural Indiana a better place to live and prosper. If you want to make a difference in your community, read more about our program here.

Greta Slater is the interim chair for Ball State’s Department of Social Work and was the previous director of the MSW program. Her research focuses on self-care, suicide, addiction, and improving social work education. Learn more about Ball State’s innovative faculty.


This article is sponsored content paid for by Ball State University.

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