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Social Work in West Virginia

Growth, both physical and academic, characterizes Shepherd University’s history in the past two decades. Now the fasting growing institution in West Virginia, Shepherd’s enrollment has increased to 4,055 students and several new academic buildings have been added since the last site visit.

However, in this land of beauty and growth there is also much poverty. For the last decade, West Virginia as a whole has consistently had the highest or second highest unemployment rate in the nation (Woods and Poole Economics, Inc. – A State Profile of West Virginia – 1992). West Virginia also ranks highest in the number of Americans too disabled to work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thirty-four percent of all West Virginia households with minor children have incomes at or below the Federal Poverty Level (Children’s Policy Institute of West Virginia – 1992). Although the Eastern Panhandle has a far less mountainous terrain and is more advantaged than other parts of the state, it is still quite rural and affected by the state’s economic status. Lack of transportation and a limited number of social service agencies create problems that augment the poverty, unemployment, and lack of education.

The Social Work Program provides the state and region with a cadre of educated generalist social workers to help fill the gaps in service to some of the poorest and most vulnerable populations at risk.

The Social Work Program is explicitly engaged in two partnership agreements to strengthen social service delivery in West Virginia and address some of its most pressing problems. One partnership is with the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, in concert with the other social work programs in the state through the Social Work Education Consortium. The other partnership is designed to foster educational goals for West Virginians. These joint endeavors demonstrate that the program is committed to furthering social justice in the broader community.

Since nearly three-fourths of our students are interested in developing those competencies that will allow them to obtain a social work position immediately upon graduation, our curriculum focuses on generalist practice and field placements that allow for choices in settings. Our first priority is to serve agencies in rural and semi-rural areas in West Virginia.

Shepherd University has been a state leader in the movement toward social work education for the last twenty-five years. It was the first four-year university in the state to have an approved Council on Social Work Education program. Since then, the program has joined with the other accredited social work programs in the state to provide professional training for beginning-level generalist social workers. A large number of Shepherd social work graduates provide services in the Eastern Panhandle as well as in other parts of West Virginia and neighboring states.

The philosophy of the social work faculty at Shepherd has always been welfare through social change. Within this framework we have, from our inception, integrated the importance of the centrality of well-being, diversity, values and ethics, populations at risk, and economic and social justice through curriculum.