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Briar Cliff offers new online social work degree program

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

A desire to meet the needs of students was at the heart of Briar Cliff University’s latest online offering.

The Sioux City university recently announced it will offer a fully online bachelor of social work degree completion program this fall and applications are now being taken.

According to Heather Craig-Oldsen, professor and program chair, much thought and exploration went into developing the program – only the second one like it in the country.

Craig-Oldsen and Sister Shirley Fineran, OSF, assistant professor of social work and director of field education, had discussed and investigated the various online options for several years now.

“We gave it a lot of thought before we moved forward,” said Craig-Oldsen. “We’ve gone to every workshop we could possibly go to at the national meetings and spoke to people who have taken online classes.”


Sister Shirley said this online program fits well with Briar Cliff’s overall mission in that it serves all and is open to all.

“We have encountered people who have a difficult time completing their BSWs. So many people across Iowa, the country and the world don’t have physical access to an on-campus program,” Craig-Oldsen said.

They cited the example of students enrolled in community colleges in places like Fort Dodge and Algona who may have recently completed their associate degrees in human service programs. If those students from those areas are unable to attend on-campus classes at Briar Cliff, they may now be able to earn a bachelor’s degree online. Sister Shirley noted that a BSW is required to become a licensed social worker in Iowa.

“There are people in rural areas who are working in social services and they would like to have a license. We think it will meet the needs of people who want to earn the degree and be eligible for the license but they simply cannot move here,” said Craig-Oldsen. As a result of the new program, she added, many communities will be better served.

This program is offered fully online. As long as an individual has broadband internet access, it is available anywhere in the world and can be accessed at any time of the day.

Sister Shirley said the first person to seek information about the program was the wife of a military serviceman stationed in Germany.

Many programs offer some online options but are not typically asynchronous – outside the constraints of time and place. Other programs typically require some on-campus time or may require the class be logged into programming online at specific times.

Craig-Oldsen said they opted to go with the asynchronous online option because they didn’t want to limit students from the program.

“The one thing that we are doing, which I believe it fairly unique, is for the practice courses we will require weekly face-to-face time between the instructor and student through Face Time or Skype. The student will schedule that so it is still considered an asynchronous program,” Craig-Oldsen said.

Benefits of the online program are not exclusive to those unable to make the commute to campus.

Sister Shirley mentioned that for some it is time or scheduling conflicts, due to jobs or family life, which prevents them from taking classes on-campus.

“For persons who have been out of school for a while or maybe have just taken some courses, I see it as an opportunity for them to continue their education,” said Sister Shirley. “It’s an opportunity for them to complete a social work degree in a really rigorous program.”

Same standards

Briar Cliff’s social work program has been accredited since 1974 by the Council on Social Work Education, which will oversee and ensure the quality of the online program’s content and competencies.

And just because there is flexibility with timing doesn’t mean the online program is easier or requires no time management. The two said it can be the opposite.

While the competencies for the online and on-campus programs are the same, Craig-Oldsen said, “It is more demanding, harder online.”

“It’s not for everyone. The online program is for the person who has a lot of adaptability, persistent with coursework, discipline and ability to meet deadlines,” Sister Shirley said. “They need to have a lot of self-motivation.”

Given that this is a degree completion program, in the future applicants for the program must have completed an associated degree program or at least 77 college credits toward the BSW. Since the program is new this year, she noted applicants need only to have completed 62 credit hours. However, those students would need to complete the additional credit hours on their own. Cost of the program is $360 per credit hour.

“We are going to start small,” noted Craig-Oldsen. “We are going to try to keep it under 12 students for practice classes.”

Applications are still being accepted. For persons seeking more information, they may contact Sharon Messerschmidt by phone at (712) 279-5520 or email at or Rose Molacek by phone at (800) 798-6191 or email at

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