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Government Relations Update

Updated: Loan Forgiveness Programs Available To Social Workers (7/27/07)

Loan Forgiveness For Social Workers

Financing a higher education is becoming increasing difficult for many students and social work students are no exception. The majority of social work students must piece together a financial package from a variety of resources (i.e. scholarships, grants, loans, parental support), but far too often, the majority of the financial support comes from college loans.

Even greater financial difficulty awaits social workers following graduation. Some social workers finish their education with bachelor's degrees in social work (BSW), but the vast majority go on to complete master's degrees (MSW). Of course, some continue to pursue doctoral degrees (DSW/PhD). After four, five, six, or more years of education, social workers are offered positions in both the public and private sectors that often fail to adequately reward them for their educational attainment, professional licenses, and credentials.

Social work salaries continue to be among the lowest for professionals in general and for those with master's level educations in particular. In 2001, 22 percent of social workers earned under $30,000; 20 percent earned between $30,000 and $39,999; 18 percent earned between $40,000 and $49,999. The median salary for social workers with two to four years' experience was $35,600.

While social workers may be in positions that are personally fulfilling, due to their high loan debt and low income, many struggle financially and are forced to forego middle class aspirations, such as home ownership. For many of these dedicated professionals the financial burden becomes unmanageable and they are forced to leave positions that may be in desperate need of their skills and knowledge for positions that are more financially rewarding. In those cases, it is a loss for the social worker, for the children and families they serve, and for society at large. Programs, such as loan forgiveness, designed to address the economic hardship of social workers in highly critical, but low paying jobs, would help to address this disturbing situation.

Information that follows serves to document the enormity of the problem.

  • Average loan debt of social work students from selected colleges and universities
  • Stories from social workers struggling to pay off their debt
  • •Legislative proposals to provide loan forgiveness for social workers

Additional documentation is available on the NASW Web site: http://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/issues/loanForgiveness.asp

Selections from Loan Indebtedness of Social Work Students

  • University of Montevallo – Montevallo , AL – Undergraduate program
    Average loan debt for undergraduate social work students: $8,000 - $10,00

    Average starting salary in area for graduates with bachelor's in social work degrees (BSWs): $23,000 - $25,000
  • University of Alabama – Tuscaloosa , AL – Undergraduate program
    Average loan debt for undergraduate social work students: $19,000 - $20,000
  • Salary: 10-year loan payments on undergraduate debt along with other basic life expenses will be unaffordable on a social work salary, even with a Master's in social work degree (MSW)
  • University of Michigan – Ann Arbor , MI – Graduate program
    The figures below are for graduates from August 2003, December 2003 and April 2004. Debt figures include both graduate and undergraduate debt. Sixteen month and 20 month students enroll for 4 terms in the Master's (MSW) program and Advanced Standing students enroll for 3 terms. All students began the program in Fall 2002.

    Average loan debt for 16 month students (December graduates): $45,640
    Average loan debt for 16 month students of color: $47,094
    Average loan debt for 20 month students (April 2004 graduates): $37,599
    Average loan debt for 20 month students of color: $37,292
    Average loan debt for Advanced Standing students (August 2003 graduates): $36,728
    Average loan debt for Advanced Standing students of color: $30,852
  • Eastern University – St. Davids , PA – Undergraduate program
    Mean loan debt of students graduating with BSW degrees in May 2003: $18,900.


  • Our Lady of the Lake University – San Antonio , Texas – Undergraduate program

    Average loan debt 2001-2002: $21,171
    Average loan debt 2000-2001: $20,910
    Average loan debt 1999-2000: $18,700
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    The figures below are for graduates in December 2002 and May 2003.

    Graduate level (MSW): 175 total graduates, 120 with debt (about 69%)-average debt $29,885
    Bachelor's level (BSW): 34 total graduates, 25 with debt (about 74%)-average debt $19,675    
Selections From The Need for Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers
In Their Own Words . . .
  • This is my 4th year as school social worker providing services to at-risk children in an identified low-income district. I currently have approximately $60,000 in student loans. I now owe more on my student loans than I did when I graduated from graduate school with my MSW (master's degree in social work) in 1999. This is really discouraging to say the least ... to know that I am in a needed field doing a needed job, but not making enough money to even lower my student loans much less ever get them paid off.
  • I have an MSW (master's degree in social work) and am working in child welfare in Detroit , Michigan . Every month I struggle to pay my bills, but I stay at my job because I love my work and I love the children I work with. I put in an average of 50-60 hours per week, but only get paid for 37.5 of them. I earn $25,112 per year and am repaying my loan for my master's.

    I strongly believe that the children and families I work with in the foster care system need and deserve qualified professionals that are trained in social work. Everyday I see the negative effects that worker turnover and unqualified workers have on children and their families. The children, especially "system children," know when a worker doesn't care and they believe that they don't matter when they have had 5 plus workers on their case.

    I firmly believe that appropriate compensation and loan repayment/forgiveness would help qualified, caring social workers stay in child welfare and continue to make a difference in children's lives.
  • I am an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) with a master's degree who earned a 3.8 GPA (grade point average), but was forced to rack up $40,000 in student loans to finance my undergrad and MSW (master's in social work) education. For the first three years of my employment, my take home pay was $1400 monthly, and $600 of that went to student loans! I am now only paying 1/3 of take home pay to student loans, but this is ghastly for a single person with my earnings. I live in a terrible neighborhood because I can not afford to live anywhere else. I love my career and am honored to be a social worker, but have not found any repayment options for Stafford loan borrowers. 
  • I am a graduate of Temple University . I completed the social work program in 2002 and earned a BSW (bachelor's degree in social work). I have worked in the child welfare system for four years. I am currently seeking assistance with loan forgiveness programs as I am struggling to pay my student loans. I have been accepted into a master's program to obtain my MSW (master's degree in social work), but am putting that off due to my current loans.

    … I hear a lot of upcoming social workers stating that they do not want to continue in the program due to the high expenses of college and the low pay that is offered in this profession.  
  • As an employee of a non-profit organization working with children and adolescents, I am interested in loan forgiveness legislation. It occurred to me as I completed my income tax this year (and noticed the credit for teachers) that I not only make less than the special education teachers who teach at the residential care facility were I work, but I also work longer hours. I will soon complete my supervision hours and I am struggling with making a decision whether or not to remain in this line of work. I know that I provide a needed service, but struggle with the need to provide for myself, as well.
Legislative Proposals to Provide Loan Forgiveness for Social Workers 
  • Child Protective Services Student Loan Forgiveness Act (H.R. 734/S. 409) — introduced by Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-OH) and Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)

    The bill authorizes loan forgiveness for individuals who earn bachelor's (BSW) or masters' (MSW) degrees in social work and work in the child welfare system for at least three to five years to help states recruit and retain qualified child welfare staff. Child welfare staff vacancies, turnover, and lack of training are well documented. Additional information on the child welfare workforce is available on the NASW Web site at http://www.socialworkers.org/pressroom/default.asp and http://www.socialworkers.org/advocacy/issues/child_welfare.asp

    A survey conducted by NASW in 1994 on students' career choices found that individuals who were not attracted to the child welfare field generally cited low salaries, large caseloads, insufficient opportunities for professional growth, and the system's lack of resources and effectiveness. As a remedy, loan forgiveness was at the top of the list.
  • College Opportunity for a Better America Act (H. R. 1306) — introduced by Representative George Miller (D-CA)

    The bill provides loan forgiveness for qualified public service employees in a number of critical shortage areas.

    A 2003 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation stated that widespread problems in the public sector workforce "not only undermine the effectiveness of system reform efforts, [but also . . .] reveal inefficient use of our public resources and present very real risks to the welfare of already vulnerable families and children."
  • Proposal to expand loan forgiveness to school social workers and other pupil services personnel

    Loan forgiveness–as proposed in the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 438) and the College Quality, Affordability, and Diversity Improvement Act (S. 1793)–must be expanded to include the pupil/related services personnel.

    When pupil/related service providers are included, special education personnel rank among the country's top labor shortage areas. On average, every local district has at least seven special education openings per year.

    Loan forgiveness as a tool for addressing the critical shortage of pupil/related services personnel has been recommended by a former director of the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education. The recommendation is that Congress

    …provide loan forgiveness for special education and related services personnel . In the teacher training area, there is a need to address the increasing shortage of special education and related services personnel.  The law [IDEA] is meaningless without qualified people to implement it.
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