Guest Commentary 

If ASU closes its School of Social Work's Tucson Component, Southern Arizona will suffer

Massive statewide educational budget cuts are looming, and one specific cut may have grave consequences for the Tucson community.

Arizona State University is proposing to close the Tucson branch of its School of Social Work. I know we are not a maroon-and-gold town, and the University of Arizona's budget cuts will also significantly impact our community, but we are at risk of losing a vital and unique educational service to Southern Arizona.

At first glance, the Tucson Component of ASU's School of Social Work looks like another corporate office amidst a sea of desert-colored stucco, but inside, students and faculty at the School of Social Work are modestly toiling away. As you approach the campus from the north or south, there is a lone blue sign that tells of the school ahead. The structure of the building is not unique and does not sport any ASU logos. Despite its subdued appearance, the Tucson Component of the school has been an educational foundation for Southern Arizona's social workers for more than 30 years. Here, social-work students learn about health and human services, community development, advocacy, cultural competency and policy practice. The program teaches students the skills to carry out clinical and administrative practices in the social-work field. Students are encouraged to fully become citizens of our community by taking responsibility for our actions and helping those around us: Social workers help individuals and communities develop resiliency and realize their full potential to be self-sufficient, to not rely on others to make changes for them.

This program has graduated a total of 1,025 master's and bachelor's students; many of those graduates stay in Tucson and use the skills learned to create positive change in our community. If the Tucson Component is closed, it will leave 191 current students with no program in Tucson to attend. ASU has said it will make reasonable accommodations, but many students work full-time and do not have the time to drive to Phoenix for classes.

The master's program is the only one of its kind in Southern Arizona. There is no comparable program at the UA or the University of Phoenix. Students travel from Bisbee, Sierra Vista and other places in Southern Arizona to attend classes. Students at the school serve approximately 60 community, state and federal agencies through largely unpaid internships; many students work in the field while earning their degrees.

The closing of this educational cornerstone of Southern Arizona will have devastating effects on many important institutions. In an article published in the Arizona Capitol Times, Mary Rogers Gillmore points out that the need for social workers will increase dramatically as the baby boomer generation ages and retires, taking current social workers out of the workforce. This population will then join the numbers of people needing assistance.

With the hard times leading to the loss of services for families and children, social workers are needed to help citizens navigate the system. They organize for change when our children, families and communities are being damaged by obstructive policies. Social workers are trained and equipped for advocacy and service through educational programs such as the Tucson Component of ASU School of Social Work.

In a stressful time of economic crisis, when families are working harder but earning less, and veterans are returning from overseas, social workers are needed more than ever. While I realize the budget has to be balanced, and certain programs will not survive this next fiscal year, eliminating this particular program will leave a gaping hole in services for current and future generations of Southern Arizonans. We need highly educated, competent people to help our community through these trying times, and the Tucson Component of ASU's School of Social Work is essential to accomplishing this.

Please join our campaign to save the Tucson Component of ASU School of Social Work. To send a letter to ASU, go to naswaz.com.


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