Heather Marshall has served as Director of SocialWorkCAS™ and Student Initiatives at the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since mid-2016. Responsible for recruiting new programs to join Liaison’s SocialWorkCAS, the Centralized Application Service (CAS™) for graduate social work programs, she recently spoke to Liaison about why her organization decided to develop a CAS and what she’s learned about recruiting programs to join the SocialWorkCAS community.
Liaison: What led your association to develop a CAS, Heather?
Heather Marshall, Council on Social Work Education (HM): We started this journey a few years ago when we were looking at what other associations were doing to increase national recruitment to their professions. We did a lot of background work so that we could inform our Board of Directors about the potential of SocialWorkCAS. In March 2016, the board decided to move forward with the CAS because they thought it was a good initiative for the field.
At CSWE we collect a lot of data on social work education, specifically regarding what our individual programs are doing. We saw SocialWorkCAS as another way to understand who was coming into the field and how we could support incoming students.
Liaison: What goals does CWSE have for SocialWorkCAS?
HM: As I said, we really wanted to better understand and support our incoming students. For example, we established a fee-waiver program early on that includes applicants who have served in the U.S. military as well as in other service-based initiatives. The data we were collecting indicated that many of our applicants had had such experiences before coming into the social work field.
For me personally, the goals have evolved over time to focus more on recruitment at the program level. We feel like the programs currently participating in SocialWorkCAS are really seeing the benefits. There are so many social work programs at institutions that already have a CAS for other disciplines that moving forward with SocialWorkCAS seemed like a great way to help support recruitment. As a result, a lot of my efforts now revolve around program adoption.
Liaison: How many programs currently participate in SocialWorkCAS?
HM: As of today, we have 13 programs. Initially, I think we were pretty aggressive with our projections, but we’re getting there. However, I am very pleased that the programs that are participating are having really positive outcomes. We’re seeing quality results.
Liaison: What outcomes have you seen from SocialWorkCAS so far? How are these aligning with your goals?
HM: We recently launched a survey about our outcomes, and I expect to have more quantifiable information on that subject at the end of the current cycle. But, anecdotally, I would say some of the most significant outcomes so far include the ability for programs to be more creative with their admissions process and to reach more students earlier in the process. SocialWorkCAS creates efficiencies and gives programs greater visibility and access to students.
For example, with SocialWorkCAS, schools and programs can do a lot more regarding targeted marketing and communications. That has really helped. The CAS has also helped in terms of streamlining the application and admissions processes. Schools were spending a lot of time on GPA calculations and manually processing applications — moving paper around, essentially. With SocialWorkCAS, they’re now able to be more creative about the way they’re recruiting students because they’re not spending so much time on other efforts.
I was hoping that’s what people would experience by joining the community.
Liaison: How does the CSWE approach SocialWorkCAS member recruitment?
HM: I’m the primary person working on this initiative at CSWE. While I do get support from our marketing team, I also get a lot of support from Liaison’s marketing team, our CAS account director, and the customer solutions manager. Because the decision to launch SocialWorkCAS was a board-directed initiative, it was very important to our leadership that there would be somebody helping to provide hands-on oversight.
Personally, I do a lot in the way of one-on-one sessions and marketing campaigns. I also built a website through Liaison’s Enrollment Marketing Platform (EMP™). That was key when it came to supporting our CAS program recruitment efforts and providing resources for our enrolled programs.
I think CAS is a great way to nurture applicants who are in the pipeline — to encourage them to continue with their applications and move forward in the process. Beyond that, we’re trying to decide how much time and energy we want to spend getting people into social work seats. I think CAS is a nice way to start the process and it’s certainly opened up some other pathways for us in looking at how we can engage with students.
Liaison: How would you describe your experience in recruiting programs to join SocialWorkCAS? Why do programs join? What challenges have you faced?
HM: There’s no single reason why programs join. It really depends on each program’s unique needs. For example, a newly accredited program might want to get its name out there to raise its visibility. Or an established program with limited resources may be attracted by the ability to streamline its admissions process.
In general, however, we’re able to build successful relationships when we can get out in front of people to explain the benefits of the CAS and show that cost is not really an issue or a barrier. Regardless of the program, our job involves understanding why they might need SocialWorkCAS and then making a case.
Liaison: What are some of the specific challenges you face when recruiting programs to join?
HM: A lack of resources within a program can present obstacles. For example, social work programs may not have access to the same IT support that other programs on the same campus have. The cost to students — or, more accurately, cost perception — also remains a challenge, even when you break down the numbers and explain the benefits.
Liaison: What resources do you find most helpful when having conversations about the CAS with potential members?
HM: Data. It’s really helpful when people can just sit down and see some numbers. It’s also important to have marketing collateral that quickly gets to the root of common myths or preconceptions about the CAS. For example, potential members need to be able to understand right away that CSWE is not managing their admissions process, but rather offering a tool that will help them manage their own process.
When we get in front of potential CAS adopters and have those conversations, that’s when we can demonstrate the return on investment.