DISSERTATION DEFENSE ANNOUNCEMENT Ph.D. in Higher Education Program: Rachel Schwartz “Understanding the Experiences of Women with Multiple Roles in Online Social Work Education Programs”

2:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Women’s access and representation in higher education has dramatically increased over the past 50 years, with recent data indicating that women make up 59.5% of all college students, surpassing men in both new applications and recent program completion rates (Belkin, 2021). The number of women studying online has continued to grow over the past few years, with 50% of undergraduate online students and 52% of graduate online students identifying as women (Duffin, 2020). Within the field of social work, graduate social work degree programs report 83.4% of students who identify as women and more than half of accredited programs offer online/hybrid options (Council on Social Work Education, 2023). Many women students who are pursuing education report that they combine student roles with full or part-time employment, and with parenting or other caretaking responsibilities (Cragg et al., 2005; Furst-Bowe, 2002; Home, 1997; Rockinson-Szapkiw et al., 2017; Stone & O’Shea, 2019).

This qualitative study aims to understand the lived experiences of women who hold multiple roles (i.e., caretaking, employment, and student) and were enrolled in online graduate level social work education. This study used semi-structured in-depth individual interviews to explore the experiences of women in fully online MSW programs. Forty-eight interviews were completed with participants across nine schools of social work. Thematic analysis was used to analyze the data from the interviews and themes were identified to tell the participants stories, starting with how online education created opportunity for the participants to pursue their degree – that otherwise may not have been possible because of their different roles. Within this discussion themes related to gender were explored, particularly how participants saw their own experiences impacted by gender roles and their identity as women. The study also examined themes connected to how programs support these students, the challenges programs/curriculum created, and how a sense of community is perceived. The findings have important implications for higher education program administrators, including how to better support students in online classrooms, how programmatic supports are provided and made available, how programs consider curriculum and format, and support and training for those teaching online.

To access the Zoom link required to attend, please contact academic.services@gse.rutgers.edu.