Washington, D.C., Wants to Make Master’s in Social Work Program Free

A proposed bill would provide scholarships to district residents who want to pursue an advanced degree in behavioral health at the University of the District of Columbia.

Published October 5, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Washington, D.C., Wants to Make Master’s in Social Work Program Free
HBCUs
Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

  • Washington, D.C., council members introduced a bill funding scholarships for behavioral health studies at the University of the District of Columbia.
  • The scholarship would cover tuition and academic fees. It would also include a monthly stipend for students pursuing a master's degree.
  • After graduation, eligible participants would have to work for two years at a district school, government agency, or healthcare provider.

The Council of the District of Columbia appears on track to cover tuition for residents pursuing behavioral health degrees at the city's only public university.

Council member Robert White last month introduced the Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act of 2022. It would fund a master of social work degree program at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and allow residents to obtain a behavioral health degree at no cost.

The proposed program would be available for district residents with bachelor's degrees who are pursuing a master's degree in behavioral health at UDC, one of the country's historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Those enrolled in the school's behavioral health program would get a scholarship covering tuition, books, and a monthly stipend for living expenses and transportation.

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

“The legislation also hopes to boost the number of clinicians with cultural competency by making the behavioral health field easier and more financially accessible for people of color to join.”

"I've seen positive movement on mental health over the past couple of years, including reduced stigma and more people seeking out the support they need," White said in a press release about the legislation. "But I hear from people all the time who can't find a therapist or counselor, so we have to do something to expand the pipeline of mental health professionals. This bill opens up a pathway for more people to pursue mental health degrees by making it completely free for DC residents."

White's office cited a 2022 DC Health Matters needs assessment, which concluded that it was "desperately important" to create new ways for people to pursue a degree and career in behavioral health as workforce shortages are getting worse.

The legislation also hopes to boost the number of clinicians with cultural competency by making the behavioral health field easier and more financially accessible for people of color to join.

The bill appears to have a good chance of passing: 8 of 13 council members are co-sponsoring it.