About Our School

The School of Social Work: Its Philosophy and History

Social Work

Throughout its history, the School of Social Work at Colorado State University has made a continuous effort to develop and maintain a program that is responsive to three distinct, but related, interests:

  1. the profession of social work as represented by the Council on Social Work Education’s Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards;
  2. the human services agencies and clients in the state, the region, the nation, and the globe; and
  3. the land-grant oriented mission and goals of Colorado State University.

The following abbreviated history of social work education at Colorado State demonstrates how these three interests have merged to create and shape the social work education programs offered today.


The School of Social Work

Establishing Baccalaureate-level Social Work Programs

In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government initiated a program (administered by state social services agencies) to increase the supply of social workers by making funds available through Title XX of the Social Security Act (and predecessor legislation) designed to encourage universities to create baccalaureate-level social work education programs. Although Colorado State University had previously offered a few social work courses in its Department of Sociology, these courses did not constitute a program that would prepare a graduate for social work practice. In 1968 the Colorado Department of Social Services and CSU entered an agreement to create a full baccalaureate social work major that would be housed in the Department of Sociology, delivered by a faculty of professional social workers, and funded with Title XX funds supporting 75% of the program costs. The agreement anticipated that the cost of operating the program would gradually shift to the university and by 1977 it would be fully funded by CSU. A total of 150 students initially declared the social work major, and the first graduating class received the BA in social work in 1971.

Accrediation, Popularity of the Program, and Federal Dismantling

In 1970 the Council on Social Work Education initiated a process of accreditation for baccalaureate social work education by granting “approval” status to 151 schools that met the established criteria. CSU was one of the first universities to attain that national recognition. Four years later “approval” was upgraded to professional “accreditation,” and again, CSU was among the first 135 baccalaureate social work education programs to achieve full accreditation – which has been maintained continuously since that time. Enrollment surged to a high of 375 majors during the mid-1970s, and it was necessary to cap the major at 325 students because new resident instruction resources were devoted to taking over the agreed-upon increasing percentage of program costs rather than funding new faculty positions to meet the growing student demand. In the 1980s, the stated goal of the Reagan administration to dismantle public human services had the effect of discouraging students from majoring in social work (both at CSU and throughout the United States), and the number of majors at CSU dropped below the cap to as few as 177 in the mid-1980s.

Program Development and Diversification

In 1976 an outreach innovation was introduced aimed primarily at assisting public social services workers to improve their competencies and credentials. Again making use of federal funds available through Title XX, a distance education program was developed, designed to help persons who possessed baccalaureate degrees in other disciplines obtain a “second bachelor’s degree” in social work. Achieving this second bachelor’s degree also allowed these students to complete a master’s degree in social work in a reduced period of time (i.e., advanced standing) in many MSW programs throughout the United States.

Establishment of CSU's Social Work Department and our Master's Programs

In 1981 social work became an independent department. By that time, the new department’s programs were completely funded by the university, and plans were initiated to create a master’s level social work education program (MSW). It was determined that the second bachelor’s degree would be phased out and its resources devoted to developing the MSW. At that time no MSW programs existed in the states of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, or South Dakota and the only other accredited social work education program in Colorado was the MSW program offered at The University of Denver (DU). The MSW program at DU was primarily oriented to specialized social work practice delivered in the Denver metropolitan area, and the tuition at that private university was viewed as prohibitive by many potential social work students. Given CSU’s land-grant mission to serve people throughout Colorado, the recognized needs of the neighboring states that did not offer the MSW, and the desire to avoid direct competition with DU, the proposed MSW program was oriented to preparing advanced generalist social workers especially capable of responding to the human services needs of small towns and rural areas or communities that were undergoing rapid transition (e.g., energy boom/bust towns, urban sprawl). That focus was later expanded to include preparation to serve residents in urban areas, especially along the Front Range.

In July 1984 the MSW program was approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and in June 1985 it was accepted into candidacy for accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education. Eligibility for initial accreditation was achieved in 1986, and fully accredited status was granted in 1992. The first class of 18 master’s level graduates received their degrees in 1986.

Another major program innovation was approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in 1990 when an alternative MSW program (with the University of Southern Colorado in Pueblo) was initiated. The University of Southern Colorado (USC), a sister university in the Colorado State University System, had by then achieved accreditation for its baccalaureate social work program and joined CSU in making the MSW accessible to students from the southern part of the state. The inclusion of USC in this social work education effort also was intended to recruit a more culturally diverse student body than is found in northern Colorado. Approval of this alternative program was granted by the Council on Social Work Education in 1992, and the first 23 students graduated in 1994. This effort became the Colorado State University System’s first cooperative program. In 2003, USC merged with CSU and is now named Colorado State University - Pueblo.

The CSU School of Social Work further expanded its outreach efforts by admitting a cohort of 27 students living in the Western Slope to the MSW program in 1998. Students took their graduate courses in Grand Junction over a four-year period. The first Western Slope class earned MSW degrees in May 2002. The School of Social Work admitted a second cohort of Western Slope MSW students in fall 2003. These students graduated in May 2006. The first Colorado Springs Distance MSW cohort of students graduated in December 2008. The second cohort began in January 2009, and graduated in December of 2011. A third cohort was admitted in Colorado Springs in January 2012. In January 2010, the first Central Colorado MSW cohort was admitted. The Central MSW program was initiated in response to a growing demand for our weekend distance MSW from across the state of Colorado and beyond. The Central cohort holds classes in Thornton and graduated in December 2012.

In an effort to continue to meet the needs of students and the community, the School of Social Work piloted an Advanced Standing program for students with BSW degrees from undergraduate social work programs accredited by the CSWE. Approximately 15-25 students with BSW degrees from accredited schools are admitted each year.

Community Outreach

Consistent with its roots in supporting the human services agencies, the CSU School of Social Work has devoted considerable effort to outreach activities. Substantial collaborations have been in the areas of research, curriculum development for and provision of statewide training to county child welfare and child protection workers. The School also supports other service and research oriented programs including the Human Services Assessment Project (HSAP) that provides assistance to social agencies in program evaluation, Human Animal Bond in Colorado (HABIC) demonstrating the potential of animal assisted human services, and primary prevention activities intended to improve the health and safety of farmers and ranchers in the region through a key role in the High Plains / Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS).

The Social Work Research Center was approved in 2004 representing collaboration between Colorado State University (School of Social Work) and community partners. Examples of community partners include County Departments of Human Services in Colorado (i.e., Larimer, Boulder, Adams, El Paso, Arapahoe, Broomfield, Pueblo, Weld, Broomfield, and Jefferson Counties), The American Humane Association, and Larimer County Mental Health. The purpose of these collaborations is to create formal links between human services agencies and higher education by researching and evaluating innovative and standard programs and research affirmed practices to advance social work practice and theory, promote social welfare and social justice, and enhance learning and practice in such areas of child welfare and juvenile delinquency. The mission of the Center is to serve the people of the State of Colorado, as well as at national and international levels, in the area of social work. The Center provides support to faculty, students, and community partners. It also facilitates training, mentoring and program development services to social welfare agencies, governmental departments, community groups, students, and faculty.

In 2006, the Social Work Center for Lifelong Learning and Outreach Education (CLOE) was established. The Center for Lifelong Learning and Outreach Education develops, administers, and integrates degree and non-degree educational programs that extend outside the on-campus degree programs of the School of Social Work. The Center provides oversight to maintain high quality programs that are consistent with the mission and goals of the School of Social Work, the College of Health and Human Sciences, and Colorado State University. The Center fosters increased faculty and student involvement in community improvement as resources for social workers and human service personnel, providing lifelong learning opportunities, and engaging alumni in both providing and participating in the educational opportunities offered by the Center.

In July 2009, the Community Organizing to Reach Empowerment (CORE) Center became a Center in the School of Social Work. The CORE Center was a community-based program serving North Fort Collins residents. The CSU CORE Center, under the leadership of the School of Social Work, became an organizational member of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) and received a $1.2 million grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Agency to deliver trauma-informed, evidence-based interventions to low income Latino children and families in northern Fort Collins. The CORE Center in north Fort Collins closed on July 31, 2013. The federal grant that supported the center ended in September 2012, and the center was unable to secure funding to sustain the program. CSU underwrote the center for ten months to assure that all services were smoothly transitioned.

Expanding, and the PhD Program

In 2002, the name of the Department of Social Work was officially changed to the School of Social Work to more accurately reflect the increased breadth of activities across national and international arenas.

In 2011, the CSU Board of Governors approved a PhD Program in Social Work replacing our successful interdisciplinary PhD collaboration with the School of Education. Additional information about the curriculum and admissions is located in the PhD section of the School of Social Work's website.

The programs of the Colorado State University School of Social Work have reflected continuing responsiveness to the needs and interests of the region, the profession of social work, and the university. The School of Social Work is currently one of nine academic units in the College of Health and Human Sciences that make practical application of knowledge and skills to address the needs of people.

Our School's Code

School of Social Work Code and Appendices (pdf)