Accreditation Pilot Update (January 2024):

Since the accreditation pilot launch in October 2021 the Board of Accreditation (BOA) and CSWE staff have worked to review each benchmark stage and continue to evaluate pilot findings. As part of this process, the BOA will revise the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work, approved and adopted for pilot use in June 2020.

An accreditation standards writing committee, consisting of BOA and COEP (Commission on Educational Policy) representatives, was established and is working to develop draft post-pilot standards for constituent and public feedback. Opportunities for feedback on the draft post-pilot standards will be provided throughout 2024.

It is anticipated that additional practice doctorate programs will be able to seek accreditation in 2025, once the pilot concludes and post-pilot standards have been adopted by the BOA. Additional information regarding the process to apply for accreditation post-pilot can be expected in late 2024. The timeline is subject to change pending Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) review.

We encourage all existing and developing practice doctorate programs to complete the Practice Doctorate Program Record Audit Form. This will allow CSWE to maintain accurate records to communicate important updates as the pilot concludes and full implementation begins.

Pilot Resources

Additional accreditation pilot resources:

What does it mean to pilot the accreditation process?

In order for the BOA to request a change of scope to include practice doctorate program accreditation, a pilot review is required by CHEA. The requirement for the pilot review is to show that “the accrediting organization has the capacity and competence to carry out and sustain the requested change of scope.” Piloting is not only required by CHEA but is also best practice as it allows the BOA and CSWE staff to intentionally review each stage in the accreditation process and make adjustments, as needed. This is further aligned with CHEA’s requirement “for the accrediting organization to review its standards to determine whether these accommodate the change or expansion of scope and whether any needed standards revisions are necessary.”
 
Four programs were selected to participate in the pilot which launched in October 2021 and is scheduled to conclude in 2025. Programs were selected to emphasize diversity in the pilot. Pilot selection is NOT indicative of program quality or whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.
 
CSWE and its BOA recognize the impact the pilot selection process may have on the programs not selected and therefore has asked that all practice doctorate programs not disclose their selection status to the public. The BOA, and CSWE staff, will also not be releasing the list of selected pilot programs nor candidacy decisions for the pilot programs to the public until the pilot is complete or an initial accreditation decision is made. 

Once two practice doctorate programs are granted initial accreditation, the BOA may apply for an expansion of scope with CHEA. The BOA is committed to the accreditation of practice doctorate programs.

New! Information for existing practice doctorate programs

Programs interested in seeking accreditation post-pilot are encouraged to complete the Practice Doctorate Program Record Audit Form. This will allow CSWE to maintain accurate records to communicate important updates as the pilot concludes and full implementation begins.

In addition, if the program has chosen to adopt and operate under the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work, the program may consider adding the following statement to their website:

CSWE’s Board of Accreditation (CSWE-BOA) is currently piloting the accreditation of practice doctorate programs. Although there are currently no CSWE-BOA accredited practice doctorate programs, in June 2020, CSWE-BOA approved and adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work. [Insert Program Name] has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work and is prepared to undergo accreditation once it becomes available. For information about practice doctorate program accreditation and the current pilot, please visit the Council on Social Work Education website.

Information for prospective practice doctorate program students

The accreditation of practice doctorate programs is currently being piloted and it will be quite some time before accreditation of these programs is the norm. Piloting accreditation processes is standard practice among accreditors and is required by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. All stakeholders, including licensing boards, are aware of and understand that this is a standard and intentionally incremental process.
 
Whether a program is selected to participate in the pilot is NOT indicative of program quality or whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.  In addition, CSWE staff will not be releasing the list of selected pilot programs nor candidacy decisions for the pilot programs and programs are also asked to not disclose their selection status to the public.
 
Students should be aware that, until accreditation of practice doctorate programs is fully implemented, and all existing practice doctorate programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, a practice doctorate program’s CSWE-accredited status should not be a determining factor in selecting which professional practice doctorate program to apply to. Prospective students should select a program that matches their professional and personal goals. Please review the CSWE/GADE Report on the Current Landscape of Doctoral Education in Social Work for examples of employment opportunities obtained by recent practice doctorate program graduates. Prospective programs may be able to provide more detailed information on the specific types of employment opportunities obtained by their graduates. It may also be helpful to inquire with prospective programs regarding the institution’s regional accreditation and whether the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work.

Admissions criteria are determined by each individual program. If the program has adopted the Accreditation Standards for Professional Practice Doctoral Programs in Social Work, at a minimum, they require that applicants:

  • have earned a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program*; and

  • have a minimum of 3 years of practice experience beyond the master’s degree in social work.

This includes individuals whose degree was recognized as equivalent through CSWE’s International Social Work Degree Recognition and Evaluation Service (ISWDRES) and graduates from Canadian social work programs accredited by CASWE covered by the memorandum of understanding between CSWE and CASWE.

Information for current or former practice doctorate program students

Piloting accreditation processes is standard practice among accreditors and is required by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. Stakeholders, including licensing boards, are aware of, and understand, that this is a standard and intentionally incremental process.
 
Only degrees earned after accreditation of practice doctorate programs is fully implemented and all existing practice doctorate programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, can a non-accredited status carry any significance. Any potential barriers to practice due to doctorate program accreditation status are not anticipated until well into the future.
 
Once practice doctorate programs receive initial accreditation, their accreditation status cannot retroactively cover or grandfather previous students. The accreditation status obtained at initial accreditation covers the components that were reviewed during the accreditation review process. Therefore, the accredited status applies to those students who started the program in the academic year during which candidacy is granted and beyond. For example, if a program is granted candidacy in Spring 2023, students who started the program in Fall 2022 or later will have graduated from an accredited program, if/when the program receives initial accreditation. See policy 1.6 in the Accreditation Policy Handbook for more details. Accreditation status will not be retroactively effective to previous students and curricula. 

Information for the public regarding the pilot

Beginning Fall 2021, the BOA began piloting the accreditation process for practice doctorate programs in social work. Individual programs determine their own degree designation but most of these programs designate “DSW” as the degree awarded.

Piloting is an intentionally incremental process. Only once accreditation of practice doctorate programs is fully implemented, and all existing practice doctorate programs have had a chance to seek accreditation, should a practice doctorate program’s CSWE- accredited status be considered when evaluating the qualifications of future practice doctorate program graduates. The CSWE-accredited status of practice doctorate programs for graduates that complete these programs before accreditation is readily available to programs should not be considered.
 
Additionally, once practice doctorate programs receive initial accreditation, a program’s accreditation status cannot retroactively cover or grandfather previous students. The accreditation status obtained at initial accreditation covers the components that were reviewed during the accreditation review process. See policy 1.6 in the Accreditation Policy Handbook for more details. Accreditation status will not be retroactively effective to previous students and curricula. 

What does practice doctorate program accreditation mean for practice?

The number of practice doctorate programs has grown in recent years. In response to questions in the field about how practice doctorate program graduates fit within the education continuum, BOA partnered with programs, social work educators and leaders, doctorate students, and other constituents to conduct an environmental scan, gather data and feedback, and create accreditation standards. These standards set a minimum threshold for recognizing practice doctorate programs as having a level of performance, integrity, and quality expected by the educational community and the constituents the programs serve.
 
Baccalaureate social work programs (accredited by CSWE’s BOA since 1974) and master’s social work programs (accredited by CSWE’s BOA since 1952, and its predecessor since 1919) maintain their significant and vital place in the continuum of social work education in preparing students for competent social work practice across all system levels (micro, mezzo, and macro) and with diverse clients and constituencies. Bachelor’s programs prepare students for generalist practice while master’s programs prepare students for generalist and specialized practice. Practice doctorate programs prepare graduates to advance practice at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels as well as in higher education and/or professional leadership. You can learn more about the landscape of doctorate education in social work here
 
Neither CSWE, nor its Board of Accreditation (BOA), address / designate a terminal degree for social work education or practice.  For information regarding faculty preparation or regional accreditation requirements for faculty qualifications / credentials, please contact the program’s accreditation specialist for your currently accredited baccalaureate and master’s social work program. The BOA and EPAS clearly continue to emphasize the value of master’s level social work preparation for faculty in accredited social work programs as well as for post-degree social work practice.
 
Professional social work licensure post-degree is under the authority of a designated board within each individual state government. Your state government is responsible for regulating licensure and setting criteria required to become a licensed professional social worker. Requirements may differ by state. Contact information for individual state licensing boards can be found on the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) website or through an internet search for a licensing board for a particular state. Questions regarding licensure and professional practice should be directed to the board in your state. Questions regarding the national social work licensing exams should be directed to the ASWB, the body that publishes and administers the exams.