Jun 13, 2024  
2021-2022 Graduate Catalog 
2021-2022 Graduate Catalog [FINAL EDITION]

Social Work, PhD

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The goal of the doctor of philosophy (PhD) program in social work is to develop academic leaders who have skill and expertise in research, teaching, and advanced social work practice. Specifically, by completion of the program, students will:

  • Apply critical thinking and systematic accumulation of data to gain greater understanding of questions related to social work practice.
  • Carry out critical conceptual analyses of theories, concepts, and assumptions underlying social work interventions.
  • Understand how political, economic, sociocultural, and organizational contexts shape the theories and methods used in social work practice.
  • Pursue interdisciplinary perspectives and collaborations.
  • Use established quantitative and qualitative methods to support scholarly research.
  • Master and apply at least one research method to the investigation of a question pertaining to social work practice.
  • Evaluate and analyze at least one clearly articulated approach to social work practice.
  • Acquire the pedagogical skills to teach effectively at all levels of social work education.
  • Develop the writing and scholarship skills necessary for professional publication.
  • Cultivate the leadership qualities and interpersonal skills to further the development of the social work profession.

Admission Guidelines

Admission guidelines are established by the PhD Program Committee in conjunction with the associate dean and in compliance with university standards for graduate programs. An MSW from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education is the preferred credential; however, a master’s degree from a related discipline along with relevant post-master’s experience may be considered. Applicants will be evaluated with regard to:

  • Potential and ability to complete advanced academic work as evidenced by achievement in both undergraduate and graduate professional education.
  • Capacity for critical thinking and professional writing skill.
  • Post-MSW or other post-master’s related practice experience.
  • Motivation for advanced academic study.
  • Ability to engage in productive professional collaboration.
  • Commitment to the advancement of knowledge for the profession.

Application Requirements

Applicants seeking admission to the doctoral program must provide the following:

  • A personal statement (5–6 double-spaced, typed pages) describing professional goals and reasons for seeking a PhD in social work.
  • Transcripts from undergraduate and graduate courses of study.
  • Sample of professional writing that illustrates capacity for critical thinking, writing skill, and appropriate citation of sources. Both electronic and hardcopy versions of the writing sample are required.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores obtained within the past two years. The GRE requirement may be waived for a Masters program GPA of 3.8 or better earned within the past 5 years.
  • Three letters of reference—two academic and one professional—addressing applicant’s professional and academic performance.
  • Completed application form.
  • Current résumé.

International Students

International students should consult the International Student Services web page at www.widener.edu for international graduate student guidelines or contact the Office of International Student Services at Widener University, One University Place, Chester, PA 19013; phone: 610-499-4499.

Transfer Credit

The following guidelines have been established by the Center for Social Work Education for acceptance of doctoral level course work taken previously at Widener or at other institutions:

  • A maximum of 18 credit hours of doctoral level courses in social work or related-disciplines earned within the fiveyear period preceding admission may be accepted for transfer credit upon admission to the doctoral program.
  • Courses taken prior to admission to the PhD program, either within or outside the university, will be accepted only if the student has earned a grade of A in the course under consideration. Grades of satisfactory or pass may be transferable as elective courses.

The process for transfering graduate credit is as follows:

  • An official request for transfer credit is submitted to the director of the doctoral program.
  • A syllabus of each course for which transfer credit is being requested is submitted to the director of the doctoral program. This must be done before a disposition will be made regarding the granting of credits.
  • Requests for transfer of graduate credit are approved upon recommendation of the associate dean.
  • Applicants receive written notification of approved transfer credits along with written notification of admission into the program.


A matriculated student is one who has been officially accepted and registered into the doctoral program. No provision is made for nonmatriculated students in the program.

Academic Progress

All students are expected to maintain satisfactory rates of progress toward their degrees, beginning with the first course in which they enroll and in all subsequent courses. A student may be dismissed from the program for failing to meet academic performance requirements, for violations of professional standards of behavior, for violations of the Student Code of Conduct, for academic fraud, or for documented interpersonal problems that interfere with the student’s ability to engage in doctoral level study.

Students are expected to maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA. Only students with a 3.0 GPA or better will be eligible to graduate. Courses for which a student has received a grade of “C” or lower can be repeated only once. Both grades will be recorded on the transcript, but only the most recent grade will be used in calculating the GPA. However, if a student earns a grade of “F” as a result of academic fraud, that student is prohibited from exercising the repeat-of-course option.

The PhD Curriculum Committee will annually review the academic progress of each student in the program. If a student’s academic progress is unsatisfactory, the committee will make a recommendation regarding the student’s retention in the program. Recommendations may include dismissal from the program or academic probation with a plan to resolve the student’s academic difficulties. Any student who has been identified as having unsatisfactory academic performance or other performance issues will be notified by the director of the doctoral program of the committee’s recommendations. Students who have been placed on academic probation as a result of the recommendation of the PhD Curriculum Committee must remediate their academic or interpersonal difficulties within two academic semesters.

If at any time a student violates professional standards of behavior or the Student Code of Conduct, commits academic fraud, or has a documented history of interpersonal problems in interacting with faculty or classmates, the committee will convene and make a recommendation regarding the student’s retention in the program.

A student dismissed from the program due to academic failure or any other reason may petition the associate dean of the Center for Social Work Education for readmission after one semester of absence from the program. The associate dean will assess the student’s petition for readmission and present a recommendation to the Center for Social Work Education’s Committee on Academic Affairs for final disposition. The student may not be absent from Widener for more than two years.

A student may appeal the retention decisions made by the Center for Social Work Education in accordance with the appeal policies described in the PhD Student Policy Manual.


Year Four

and until Defense of the Dissertation


*Students enroll in SW 998  each semester until the dissertation proposal is defended successfully. Afterward, students enroll in SW 999  until the dissertation is defended successfully.

The program of study that appears here applies to students who were admitted for the summer session of this catalog year and later.  Students admitted prior to that term should select the appropriate catalog year of their admission.  Choose previous catalogs from the Home, Graduate, or Undergraduate Catalog Page at http://Catalog.widener.edu.


Students must take one 3-credit elective course. Electives offered by the center’s faculty address a variety of models of interventions, focusing on the models’ theoretical foundations, application, and evaluation of effectiveness. Courses are also offered that address approaches to working with specific populations. Students are encouraged to select courses from other disciplines that provide related content. Students pursuing joint degree options are able to use elective course credits to fulfill the requirements of approved joint degree programs.

Comprehensive Paper

The comprehensive paper is the basis for assessing whether doctoral students have acquired the knowledge and skills necessary for proceeding with the development of a doctoral dissertation. The comprehensive paper is submitted by the student in the spring semester of the third year of study. The paper should reflect the student’s ability to conceptualize a clear and compelling topic; organize, present, and critique knowledge relevant to that topic; and propose a research focus and discuss possible research methods informed by a review of the relevant literature.

Two faculty members read each paper and make an assessment. In the case of a difference in the two readers’ evaluations, a third reader is assigned. Students receive written feedback on their papers prior to beginning work on their dissertation proposal.

If two or more readers of the comprehensive paper assess the paper to be unsatisfactory, the student is given an opportunity to revise the paper. The revised paper is reviewed by the doctoral program director. If the student fails to receive a satisfactory grade for the paper after the second review, the student is advised to withdraw from the program.

Dissertation Proposal

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive paper, the student requests a faculty member of the Center for Social Work Education to be a dissertation chair. The chair guides that student in developing a dissertation proposal and completing the dissertation once the proposal is approved. Appointment of the chair must be approved by the director of the doctoral program and the associate dean and director.

In the course of developing the dissertation proposal, the candidate and the chair, in consultation with the director of the doctoral program, designate a dissertation committee. Typically, the committee consists of the chair, one other faculty member from the Center for Social Work Education, and one faculty member from another department of the university. Faculty from other universities may also be considered. Formal appointment of the committee members is made by the associate dean and director of the Center for Social Work Education.

The dissertation proposal should not exceed 30 typewritten double-spaced pages, exclusive of a bibliography. Formal approval of the proposal by all dissertation committee members and two independent readers must be obtained, be documented by the dissertation chair, and filed with the director of the doctoral program. However, actual work on the dissertation may not begin unless approval has been obtained from the university’s Institutional Review Board for the protection of human subjects, if needed. If such approval is not needed, work on the dissertation may begin immediately after formal approval of the proposal.

Dissertation Proposal Defense and Approval

In consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee and the doctoral program director, the director of the Center for Social Work Education will appoint two independent readers of the dissertation proposal and set a date for the oral defense. The same readers will serve as independent readers of the completed dissertation.

The Dissertation Proposal Hearing Committee’s responsibilities are to address only two questions regarding the proposal.

  1. Is the proposed study manageable? (Does the student have the resources, access for data collection, technical assistance, etc.?)
  2. Is the rationale for the study adequate? (Is it clearly stated how the study will add to existing knowledge?)


The production of a dissertation and its oral defense are major components in doctoral education. They are the final and most complete demonstration of the student’s readiness to receive the doctoral degree. The dissertation is both a process and a product. As a process, the dissertation is an educational endeavor in which the student demonstrates the ability to carry out an independent investigation that examines an aspect of social work theory and practice using sound research methods. As a product, it must address, in a creative and original way, a substantive problem area of concern to social work in an attempt to advance knowledge and contribute to the ongoing development of the knowledge base of the profession in a fashion that is suitable for publication.

When the chair of the dissertation committee is satisfied that the dissertation meets all requirements, the chair shall request review and approval (or recommendations for revisions) from the two other committee members. It is the student’s responsibility to provide each member of the committee with a copy of the dissertation following the submission guidelines of the PhD Program Committee. When all dissertation committee members have approved the dissertation, the chair of the dissertation committee provides written notification to the director of the doctoral program.

Oral Defense of Dissertation

In consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee and the two independent readers, the director of the doctoral program sets a date for the oral defense. It is the student’s responsibility to provide the independent readers with a copy of the dissertation in compliance with the format guidelines provided by the university. The oral defense is attended by the director of the doctoral program, the dissertation committee, and the two independent readers. The dean of the College of Health and Human Services is also invited to attend the defense. Additional attendees are determined by the director of the doctoral program in consultation with the chair of the dissertation committee.

Following the oral defense of the dissertation, the dissertation committee members, the independent readers, and the director of the doctoral program vote as to whether the dissertation is “Satisfactory” or “Unsatisfactory.” A vote of “Satisfactory” may be qualified by directions for required modifications or stylistic changes. A vote of “Unsatisfactory” must be qualified by a written list of the modifications that must be made to render it “Satisfactory.” The vote is recorded and signed by all. In the event of an “Unsatisfactory” decision, the doctoral program director, the chair of the dissertation committee, and the student schedule a second oral defense before the same committee. If the dissertation fails to receive a “Satisfactory” vote in the second oral defense, the student is advised to withdraw from the program.

Publication of the Dissertation

All dissertations receiving a “Satisfactory” vote following the oral defense are published via microfilming at the student’s expense. In addition, three bound copies must be provided to the Center for Social Work Education, one of which will be catalogued at Wolfgram Memorial Library. The student must follow the publication format guidelines provided by the PhD Curriculum Committee.

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