Silver to cut down on field requirement for social work students

After months of student organizing, the Silver School of Social Work announced that it intends to reduce its field learning requirement for graduate students by the fall 2024 semester.


Jason Alpert-Wisnia

Representatives of the Silver School of Social Work at NYU’s class of 2023 commencement ceremony. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Carmo Moniz, Managing Editor

Master’s students at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work are slated to spend 300 fewer hours in the field by the fall 2024 semester, according to an announcement by Silver dean Michael Lindsey at the school’s graduation ceremony on May 17. The planned reduction comes after months of advocacy from students, who have been fighting to lessen the number of hours they spend in their field positions and secure wages for their field hours. 

“When you take on the challenge to dismantle systems, it is really difficult but necessary work requiring patience, steadfastness and a never-quit attitude,” Lindsey said at the ceremony. “Other students engaged in advocacy to reduce field placement hours and ways to make placements more affordable to students. These are goals that we all share, even if in some cases there hasn’t always been total agreement on the path to get there.” 

The change would lower Silver’s field learning requirement for Master of Social Work students from 1,200 to 900 hours, the minimum set by the Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditation body for social work schools.

MSW students in NYU’s chapter of Payment for Placements, a national organization calling for social work students to be paid wages for their field hours, have been advocating for Silver to reduce its required placement hours to the CSWE minimum since September. The group has met with the school’s administration multiple times to discuss the placement program’s design, as they feel it places a financial and emotional burden on students.

Silver’s current field learning requirement has often been criticized by students, some of whom have said that the agencies where they complete their placement hours depend on unpaid labor to avoid the cost of hiring more paid employees. Many students have been forced to max out their student loans or work part-time jobs in addition to their field learning to afford the school’s $54,000 per year tuition

Field learning is an integral part of a social work education for both graduate and undergraduate students, and typically consists of learning to provide social services to clients in different communities and settings, depending on the public or nonprofit organization where students are assigned. Undergraduate students at NYU have a smaller field requirement than master’s students, at 550 hours.

While MSW degrees are not required for all social work positions, they are typically needed to work advanced jobs in fields such as health care, administration and education. Bachelor’s degrees in social work are often enough to secure entry-level positions, but these jobs can be challenging to advance in without a higher level of education.

Many members of P4P at NYU are MSW students, a degree that takes two years to complete in Silver’s full-time program and up to four years in the part-time track. There are around 400 incoming MSW students at the school each year, with the two-year program being the most common course of study.

Full-time master’s students at NYU are placed in one of 600 partner agencies for their field placements, and work in their positions around 21 hours per week. Students are rarely paid for this work, although what they do is similar to the work of paid professionals, and do not get to choose where they are placed. 

In a May 19 email to the Silver community, Lindsey said that it will take months of planning and working with students, faculty, partner agencies and other schools in New York City to reduce the field learning requirement to the CSWE minimum while preserving the standard of field learning at the school.

Lindsey also noted that in February, the school created a $50,000 fund to cover onboarding fees at social work agencies, such as costs for required background checks, for students with demonstrated need starting in the fall of 2024. The fund will also be used to reimburse students with need for onboarding costs paid this past academic year. 

Planning for the change in placement hours is already underway, and the school will work with partner agencies to make sure their field learning needs are still met, according to Silver spokesperson Sheryl Huggins Salomon. Huggins Salomon said that many schools of social work in the New York City area also currently require MSW students to complete 1,200 hours in the field, but that this is not true of schools in other parts of New York state. 

“Aligning the practicum hours from the current 1,200 to 900 hours is among the ways that we will continue to evolve as a premiere school of social work,” Huggins Solomon said. “We chose this moment to make the announcement because we want to be both proactive and responsive to our students and understand that aligning our practicum hours will allow a greater number of students to achieve their goal of obtaining a NYU Silver education.”

Last month, P4P at NYU took part in the group’s National Week of Action, joining P4P chapters at Columbia University, Hunter College and Stony Brook University in protesting the field hour requirement and uncompensated placement work. P4P at NYU is asking that the university pay students wages for their field hours, arguing that it has the money to do so.

Huggins Salomon did not address a question about whether the university has the funds to pay social work students for field learning hours.

P4P at NYU decided to stop meeting with Silver administration in December, citing that the school had not made any “meaningful” progress toward meeting their demands.

The group said that the planned change to required placement hours at Silver is only the beginning, and that it will continue to fight for social work students to be paid for their field work in a statement provided by Leann Beard, a member of P4P at NYU.

“A reduction of field hours from 1,200 to the 900 hours required by the Council on Social Work Education is a massive victory, and would not have happened without P4P and the entire student body demanding it,” the statement reads. “We must hold NYU accountable to actually implementing this hours alignment in a timely and equitable manner.”

Correction, May 25: A previous version of this article misquoted Silver administrators as referring to field learning as field work. The article has been updated to reflect the correction and WSN regrets the error.

Contact Carmo Moniz at [email protected].