James Carter, associate professor of social work at Wright State University, saw a problem. He watched students graduate with degrees in social work with high student loans.
As someone who struggled with student loans personally, Carter decided to study students with debt with the assistance of his professor at the time, Audrey Begun, professor of social work at Ohio State University. The research earned Carter and Begun an award from the Journal of Social Work and Education.
Carter and Begun’s research, titled “Career Implications of Doctoral Social Work and Student Debt Load” was named Best Empirical Article for its originality and relevance to current conversations in research. The review and research about student debt is exceedingly relevant.
To conduct the research, Carter and Begun surveyed incoming doctoral students, as well as leaders in social work doctoral programs. Each student was asked about their anxiety about student loans and program leaders were asked about their awareness of student debt levels.
After analyzing the survey results, Carter found that three quarters of all social work doctoral students expected to graduate with some level of debt. Many of these students have financial need and student debt made their living situation worse.
“Some of these students have to choose between eating and paying their student loans,” Carter said.
Carter said implementing scholarships and financial aid programs for doctoral social work students would greatly decrease financial anxiety and debt. Very few universities have this support, but Carter said he would like to see it more widely implemented.
The Journal of Social Work Education said Carter’s study has important implications for future research into how debt affects academia within social work programs.
“The email came out of nowhere, it was a complete surprise,” Carter said. “But I think doing the research will start good conversations immediately.”
On Nov. 9, Carter and his co-author will travel to Orlando, Florida, for the yearly Council of Social Work Education Membership Meeting, where they will attend an award dinner.
Funding from the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education and the Ohio State University College of Social Work supported the study.