The Wash
University of the District of Columbia
(Julia Mouketo/The Wash)

UDC’s New Free Master’s in Social Work: A Response to D.C.’s Social Worker Shortage

D.C. Council signs a bill that will create a free Master’s in Social Work at UDC, to address the city’s pressing social worker shortage amid rising homelessness.

The D.C. Council’s recent announcement of a free Master’s in Social Work (MSW) program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) in VanNess will address the city’s social worker shortage. This shortage, highlighted by a significant 11.6% increase in homelessness in 2023, has put a strain on the district’s social services and mental health support systems.

Dr. Anika S. Burtin, Chair of UDC’s Education, Health, and Social Work Department, emphasized the program’s distinct role in meeting the city’s unique needs. 

“Our goal is to create a program that not only educates but also directly contributes to solving the city’s most pressing social issues, particularly mental health and homelessness,” Burtin said. 

The program, expected to begin in the fall of 2024 at UDC, will directly invest in the city’s future because it will target the district’s residents. (Julia Mouketo/The Wash)

The program, awaiting accreditation from the Council of Social Work Education, will be distinct from similar programs at Howard and Catholic Universities by ensuring a unique focus on the District’s specific challenges.

D.C. Councilmember Robert White was unavailable for an interview, but his spokesperson shared the importance of this topic with the politician through an email with the Wash.

 After becoming the chair of the housing committee, White was confronted with the issue of homeless encampment clearings, notably at McPherson Square, and his interactions with unhoused residents who were waiting for housing vouchers due to process delays made him realize there was a shortage of caseworkers, the spokesperson said. 

White’s experience led to the creation of the Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act. This will provide $6 million for four years as funding for the degree program at UDC for D.C. residents. The funds will cover the cost of books, exams, and living expenses. 

“This isn’t just about education; it’s about equipping our residents with the tools to make a tangible difference in the lives of many. It’s about uplifting our community from within,” White said in a release from his office.

Councilmember White emphasized the program’s importance in addressing the city’s systemic issues and making a lasting impact on the district. 

Will Doyle is the vice president of Housing First, a program at Pathways to Housing DC, a nonprofit whose mission is to help those who experience homelessness in the district. 

As a licensed clinical social worker, Doyle said that the nonprofit — which works closely with social workers, was impacted by the shortage.

“We would be able to employ many more [social workers], but due to the shortage, we can’t,” Doyle said.

The free Masters in Social Work program at UDC marks a significant step towards addressing the social worker shortage in D.C., offering solutions to some of the city’s most persistent challenges. The program, expected to begin in the fall of 2024 at UDC, will directly invest in the city’s future because it will target the district’s residents. Furthermore, a free education in social work will bridge the gap to higher education and provide jobs to many.

Julia Mouketo

Julia is a reporter for The Wash covering the Tenleytown and Friendship Heights area. She is a graduate student at American University. Prior to The Wash, she worked for The Roanoke Times and Cardinal News.

1 comment

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    This is my number: 202-2712343
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