Campus News

UK Responds to Social Worker Shortage, Launches 1st Online Doctorate of Social Work Program in the State

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 10, 2020) — It's a daunting but necessary task — serving the most vulnerable members of our community. In a world filled with social injustices and inequality, communities need continued support.  

Social workers provide critically important services aimed at improving community safety and well-being. The hope is, that behind every person going through a difficult challenge — whether it's abuse, addiction, disability, discrimination or poverty — there's a social worker waiting to help address it.

Unfortunately, that's not the case.

There's a critical shortage of social workers across the country — including right here in the Commonwealth. In fact, a recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a 16% increase in the need for social workers nationwide since 2016. Of particular demand, are social work practitioners with advanced training and education. The College of Social Work (CoSW) at the University of Kentucky is committed to meeting that need. 

With the well-being of Kentuckians in mind, the CoSW is launching an online Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) program. 

The first of its kind in the state, the program will successfully prepare students for advanced social work practice, clinical research, administrative leadership and executive roles. The DSW program is designed to prepare students to creatively address society’s most complex social issues.

According to Jay Miller, dean of the CoSW, the program could not come at a more pressing time. “We recognize that as the social challenges become increasingly complex, so too must our response,” he explained. “For now, that response is the DSW program.”

The growth in child abuse and neglect cases, the devastating opioid epidemic and complex mental health issues are overwhelming social workers with complicated caseloads. In an effort to lessen the burden, the DSW program will provide social work practitioners the opportunity to build upon their skills by receiving specialized training in one of three areas: administrative leadership, advanced clinical practice or military behavioral health (MBH).

In a continued effort to make UK programs accessible and attainable, the DSW is fully online and can be completed in two years (full time). There are also part-time options available.

“This program was conceptualized with practitioners in mind,” Natalie Pope, director of CoSW doctoral programs, said. “Our college has made significant investments in educational technology — which ensures that we can offer an academically rigorous educational experience in a flexible and efficient format.”

Ultimately, graduates of the program will be positioned to advance their careers, become transformational leaders and join the greater conversation about creating a stronger society. 

Social workers play a prominent role in improving the lives of those who need it most.

With shortages expected to worsen over the next decade, Miller hopes the CoSW's cutting-edge approach will transform communities and the lives of people who call those communities home.

“The DSW program will fundamentally improve the social work practice and academic landscape in Kentucky and beyond. It will afford social work practitioners an advanced career trajectory and make the profession more desirable for those exploring helping profession disciplines,” he explained. "The program will draw people to social work and address current practice and workforce needs.”  

The first DSW cohort will start Fall 2020. The program will begin accepting applications Feb. 15, 2020.

If you're interested in learning more about the program, visit the CoSW website, call 859-257-6650, text “DSW” to 31996 or email

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.