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KU professor to lead effort to improve social welfare doctoral programs

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chris Petr

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LAWRENCE — Accreditation is a standard method of quality assurance in higher education, but it doesn't reach every department on a given campus. A University of Kansas professor is helping lead an effort to ensure quality standards for social work doctoral programs throughout North America.

Chris Petr, professor of social welfare and chair of the KU School of Social Welfare's doctoral program, has been appointed to co-chair a task force working to upgrade quality standards and develop new measures of excellence in doctoral education in the field. Kia Bentley, chair of the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education in social work, selected Petr and Donna Harrington of the University of Maryland to co-chair the task force.

While accreditation is standard for universities and for both undergraduate and master's education in social welfare, it does not extend to doctoral education in the field. Universities generally set their own standards. To this point, the Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education has only had suggested guidelines, and those have not been updated since 2003.

The task force has designed a survey for social welfare doctoral students, faculty, advisers, deans, administrators and others to gauge their opinions on the most important aspects of a quality doctoral program. The survey will be distributed this month. The task force will analyze the results and develop new standards in the spring. The survey will judge quality outcomes.

"It will ask questions such as 'In a quality program, how many publications would a doctoral candidate have? How many conference presentations would he or she have? What is the time to degree?'" Petr said of the survey. "But most importantly it's about the quality of content in the programs."

The survey will differentiate input from various demographics, such as students and advisers, junior and senior faculty and weigh them in the final recommendations. Areas of agreement and needed improvements will also weigh heavily in the recommendations.

The Group on the Advancement of Doctoral Education will make the recommended standards available to both universities looking to perform self-assessments of their programs and those looking to start new doctoral programs in social welfare.

"It will be interesting to see the answers to these questions about what is important in doctoral education to different groups of folks. It will have a big impact on doctoral education in social welfare and is research with a real purpose that is going to be relevant right away," Petr said.

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