The term business of social work feel like a contradiction. Social work embraces service to others and social justice while eschewing profit. Business, in contrast, accepts selfishness as a given—remember “Greed is good”?—and prioritizes profit.
And yet, the enterprise of social work operates in a commercial world in which business knowledge is not only helpful but essential. Social work organizations need managers, administrators, and executives who understand business principles if these nonprofits are to thrive and provide their essential services.
Completing a dual Master of Social Work (MSW) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) program provides the background necessary to qualify for high-responsibility, high-paying social work jobs. Students learn advanced social work techniques and the business skills needed to operate a facility or organization.
And that’s not all. Your social work skills can also help you find employment in the business sector—in human resources management or corporate social responsibility, for example.
So, you want to know more about MSW/MBA dual-degree programs? This article explores this academic pathway and discusses:
Adding an MBA to your MSW program can bolster your social work competencies with skills in management, leadership, budgeting, funding, and long-term strategy. This dual graduate degree is optimal for those seeking top leadership positions with social work organizations. Here are some additional reasons to pursue these credentials.
Dual-degree holders work for the government, social welfare institutions, hospitals, philanthropic foundations, and other nonprofit organizations. Many occupy social work leadership positions like
social work administrator and social service manager. Some become lobbyists for social service organizations; at University of Pennsylvania, dual-degree students pursue internships in policy research and development careers.
A social work administrator makes budget and policy decisions for their organization. Focus areas include evaluating existing programs and areas of need. Administrators can work in various settings, including government welfare agencies, universities, health centers, hospitals, employee assistance programs, law firms, and mental health facilities. While it is possible to ascend to the administrative level with only a bachelor’s degree, employers typically seek candidates who have completed a relevant graduate program.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) reports that professionals with dual MSW degrees are more likely to hold leadership positions with titles that include the terms director, executive director, or vice president. If you’re interested in planning, fundraising, policy making, and assuring the long-term viability of a social service organization, these are the roles in which you can pursue those goals.
Social service managers perform similar tasks as administrators. They work with budgets and implement policies. However, these professionals often spend more time evaluating active policies and writing proposals than approving them.
Using your dual-degree program to develop a specialization area can broaden your career opportunities. Students can pursue a formal concentration or develop a concentration through electives. One University at Buffalo alumna pursued a healthcare management specialization during the MBA portion of her joint degree. From there, she sought a healthcare facility leadership position. Today, she works to ensure that the hospice where she works is adequately financed and well-managed.
Advanced administrative positions command higher salaries than direct practice roles. PayScale says the average social worker earns around $50,000 per year while social work managers make nearly $67,000. Social work administrators with a master’s degree earn an average salary of $76,000 annually, with top-paid professionals making close to $100,000. Those with a dual degree can earn even more.
Salaries also vary by location. The national average for social service program directors is over $100,000 annually, according to Salary.com. Program directors in New York City earn over $123,000, while Sioux Falls, South Dakota those in earn just under $92,000.
According to the University of Pittsburgh MSW/MBA website, social work organizations are changing to operate more like traditional businesses. Organizations are altering their organizational structures, data management and human resource practices, and market analysis methods. Business-minded social workers who can lower costs and increase effectiveness may soon be in high demand.
Social work has an unusually high turnover rate. Social workers frequently deal with difficult situations, including child and domestic abuse, crime, natural disasters, and war. Studies show these traumatic incidents can lead to secondary traumatic stress (STS) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Child and family social workers turn over at exceptionally high rates. The Virginia Mercury reports that Virginia social workers are leaving in droves, partly because of poor pay and hours. The article estimates around two-thirds of separating family services specialists don’t make it longer than five years.
Leaving direct practice allows social workers to continue helping others without putting themselves in danger.
MSW/MBA holders in high-ranking administrative positions can make lasting changes to the field of social work. Social work leaders can utilize their business acumen to improve workplace efficiency and implement cutting-edge policies with a lasting impact. Better policies can improve the lives of clients and social worker retention rates.
There are a couple of significant practical considerations:
- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification
Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:
- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)
Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. ( )
A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. ( )
- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees
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It’s possible to earn an MSW/MBA online. These programs typically cover the same coursework and lead to the same positions as in-person degrees. It’s worth noting that many of the top schools, including Penn, do not offer online programs. If school ranking is essential to you (it may not be), consider earning your degree in person.
Schools with online MSW/MBA programs include:
Dual-degree programs include both social work and business classes. Though curricula differ among schools—Penn reports that its students receive individually designed coursework—programs cover many of the same topics. The University at Buffalo core curriculum includes course titles that include:
Students also choose from elective coursework plus complete an internship.
Buffalo MSW students take classes that include:
They also perform fieldwork (an opportunity to develop a social work specialization). Students can pursue advanced coursework working with families, adults, groups, and more.
General graduate admissions requirements include the following:
Be sure to research the exact requirements of your chosen school(s). Many programs set academic standards, commonly a GPA of 3.0 or more; others are test-optional.
Dual-degree programs often impose specialized requirements in addition to the standard graduate admissions process. Many require students to apply separately to the MSW and MBA programs. Be sure to factor in this extra time commitment.
Additionally, programs may have work experience requirements. Penn, for example, only admits applicants who have already worked as supervisors or advisors.
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