Through a hands-on, student-based approach, Winthrop University helps learners develop the knowledge and values they need to enrich their lives and prepare for the future. With a devotion to ensuring all students feel connected to the university community, Winthrop is incredibly aware of each learner’s experience. They’re ranked sixth by U.S. News & World Report among public universities and in the top 20 of public and private institutions in the region.
The university boasts distinctive programs that set graduates apart from the competition in their fields. Winthrop’s master’s in social work (MSW) program focuses on empowerment practice. The university is one of only three schools in the country that offers this specialization, highlighting the strengths within individuals, groups, and communities and enabling them to make the best decisions. Winthrop decided to bring this unique program to a larger student base and provide a flexible learning environment for working professionals by offering it online.
Breaking into online learning can challenge even the most experienced faculty and staff. When Winthrop recognized the need to expand their MSW program online, they knew they’d need a flexible solution to maintain the one-on-one support and care that they pride themselves on.
Challenge: Scaling Enrollments and Diverse Field Placements at the National Level
An important aspect of studying social work is field experience, which helps students translate what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world. All MSW students at Winthrop, both online and on-ground, must access high-quality field placements. When launching their online MSW program, leaders at Winthrop understood that some online students wouldn’t have access to the incredible network they’d built in the Carolinas for their on-campus students. The team knew they needed support building a national field network.
Additionally, Winthrop has an incredibly diverse learner population. Their student body includes:
• Those who recently graduated from undergrad
• Individuals coming to social work as their second, third, or fourth career
• Students with bachelor’s degrees
• Learners who have completed graduate programs, such as master’s and PhDs
• Older students, some in their seventies
• Full-time working adults
The university is passionate about serving each students’ unique needs and ensuring they meet their goals and graduate as capable social workers. Like the students, field placement opportunities must be diverse. Students need to work in various environments, from adoption to mental health care. Some may want to assist individuals or families, while others focus macro-level issues within our society.
Winthrop wanted to take a learner-focused approach that ensured no student would need to struggle to find field experience that suited them, and we were prepared to help them do just that.
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Strategy: A Hands-on, Expert Approach to Helping Students
Winthrop chose to work with us to gain the support they needed for their online MSW and help them navigate what field placement services would look like for online learners. Since making that decision, the teams have worked closely to ensure student success. We meet with students, do interviews, work directly with agencies, complete vetting, and match students with the right field placements. Once a week, our team meets with Ja’Shaun Blanding, Director of Field Education at Winthrop, to discuss student progress and additional assistance they may need.
“The support we receive from Wiley helps us stay focused on students and their needs. These meetings give us the opportunity to bounce ideas off one another. For example, we can assess if a student is a good candidate for a virtual placement versus an in-person placement,” Blanding explained.
Winthrop has put much thought into the structure of their MSW program and how field placements fit in. We respect that strategy when making choices about how to grow their network. “Our program is unique in that we don’t put students in the field the first semester as many schools do. We want to give them an opportunity to be grounded in their coursework so they can apply those skills when they are ready to go into the field. We’ve gotten feedback from field instructors that because of this, students are better prepared,” Anthony J. Hill, PhD and MSW Chair at Winthrop, said.
Our support guarantees that Winthrop can give one-on-one attention to their online students without sacrificing the quality that on-ground learners have enjoyed. “We meet with each student for at least an hour to develop a field plan. I think that sets us apart. We have real conversations with them about how they are going to balance this work,” Blanding said.
When it comes to a national network of field placement agencies, we aid students who cannot find placement independently, especially outside of the Carolinas. “Wiley does a great job of vetting agencies that we are not familiar with yet. We can then agree to have the student placed there,” Hill explained.
In addition to helping with field placements and online learner support, we assist with reporting through Winthrop’s field management software so the university can be sure they meet their goals continually.
Results: A Seamless Partnership that Drives Student Success
When it comes to Winthrop, our role has evolved from administrative to extremely student forward when it comes to clinical placement. Our team meets with the Winthrop staff and students while vetting agencies and growing the student population at the national level. The partnership has accelerated enrollment in Winthrop’s MSW program without sacrificing the quality education that students expect from the university.
Winthrop started the partnership with no online MSW students and had more than 300 enrolled in the fall of 2021. We have placed more than 375 students in unique field experiences in just three years. We have also helped Winthrop add over 80 new partnerships with agencies in the past year.
Our team of field education specialists continues to grow–there are currently nine dedicated specialists. The relationship is seamless, with our employees behaving as part of the Winthrop team. “When students are talking to Wiley, they have no idea that they’re Wiley folks. They think they are talking to Winthrop staff. And that is intentional. That’s a really important part of our relationship. We love the continuity,” Hill said.
The partnership provides tangible results for students too. In addition to gaining top-notch field experiences, their licensure pass rate is high. Winthrop graduates boast a pass rate in the upper 80%. The semester-to-semester retention rate is consistently around 92%—no small feat.
Field-based placements are essential for learners on various career paths, and we can help make them successful for both universities and students. Contact us to discuss how our field and clinical placement support can help your university.