Washington, D.C., City Council Makes Master’s in Social Work Program Free

The Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act will provide financial assistance for district residents pursuing a master's degree in behavioral health at the University of D.C.
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Margaret Attridge is a news reporter for BestColleges focusing on higher education news stories in California. She graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in May 2022 with a BA in journalism and government and politics....
Published on November 27, 2023
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  • Washington, D.C., city council passed a bill funding scholarships for behavioral health students at the University of the District of Columbia.
  • The scholarship will include tuition, academic costs, and a monthly stipend for living expenses and transportation.
  • After graduation, eligible participants must work for three years at a district school, government agency, or healthcare provider.

Washington, D.C., residents hoping to make an impact in their communities will soon be able to earn a master of social work at no cost thanks to legislation passed by the city council.

The Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act establishes a scholarship program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to provide financial assistance to students seeking a master’s degree in social work.

The program will be available for district residents who are pursuing a master's degree in behavioral health at UDC, one of the country's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

In exchange for financial assistance, program participants must commit to working in a District public or charter school, local government agency, or healthcare provider for at least three years after getting their master's degree and the licensure or certification required to practice in the district, according to the bill's text.

At-Large Councilmember Robert White told BestColleges he introduced the legislation due to what he saw as a lack of social workers and a high barrier to entry for those who wanted to help.

"I tried to go deep into the issues that we are experiencing with homelessness and public safety and broader mental health challenges. And as I did, the problem I kept coming back to was that there just weren't enough social workers for the need," White said.

"I know that there are a lot of people in the city who want to be part of solving our challenges. If we could create a free [master’s of social work] program at our local state university, I knew that we could get a lot of people from our community … to help."

Those enrolled in the school's behavioral health program will get a scholarship covering tuition, books, and a monthly stipend for living expenses and transportation. White stressed it was important for the aid to cover all aspects of education to make the program available to anyone who was interested.

"I wanted to make sure we lower the barrier as much as possible," White explained. "I also believe that the program will attract many people of color who come from the communities that we intend to serve. So I think we will see more diversity and cultural competence in the field, which is really important."

The program is anticipated to cost $6 million dollars over four years — financed from the city’s general fund. Funding will cover 20 students in the program’s first year and 40 students each subsequent year.

"The benefits outweigh the costs. We will see more mental health resources for our K-12 students, we’ll see more social workers [helping with] homelessness and violence prevention, and the city will be better off."

The legislation will have to be signed by District Mayor Muriel Bowser and go through a 30-day period of congressional review before it becomes law. White says the next steps lie with UDC: hiring faculty, creating the curriculum, and applying for accreditation, with the expectation that the first cohort of students will start at the beginning of 2025.