USD has developed 3+2 programs for both USD and Northern State University (NSU) sociology students and is now accepting applications for fall 2023. Through the new programs, students pursuing a bachelor's degree in sociology who meet certain admission criteria can receive guaranteed acceptance into USD's MSW program for their fourth year, with credits counting toward both degrees. The MSW program is offered in Sioux Falls and 100% online, providing students with a flexible, high-quality program taught by USD’s expert faculty. MSW applications are open now until Dec. 1.

USD’s partnership with NSU is the first program partnership to extend from an undergraduate program to a graduate program across South Dakota Board of Regents universities, said Beth Freeburg, associate provost and dean of USD’s Graduate School.

“This is a historic step for South Dakota’s universities, and we hope this type of program can lead to future 3+2 partnerships across the state in other graduate programs,” Freeburg said. “With so many workforce shortages across the state, accelerated programs help ensure our students complete their degrees efficiently while receiving a high-quality education. This will benefit sociology students at USD, USD- Sioux Falls and NSU, and we’re excited to see how it might inspire additional partnerships in the future.”

Karen Koster, chair of USD’s sociology program, said USD’s 3+2 program will especially benefit USD’s online and Sioux Falls students, who may be interested in becoming social workers but do not have access to USD’s undergraduate social work program based on the Vermillion campus.

“This new 3+2 program allows flexibility for place-bound students who may not be able to attend USD’s campus in Vermillion,” Koster said. “The program provides pathways for all of our sociology majors – including online and at USD – Sioux Falls – and will help USD educate future social workers who can help fill the state’s workforce need.”

Taylor Owens, a sociology major at USD – Sioux Falls, said the availability of the 3+2 program in Sioux Falls proved significant to her, as she wanted to remain in Sioux Falls as she continued her education.

“I was planning to move to study for my bachelor of science in social work, as it wasn't an available program in Sioux Falls,” Owens said. “Once the 3+2 became available, I was able to stay in Sioux Falls where I had studied for the past two years. This program is great for students who have an interest in sociology but also in the field of social work. 3+2 also allows you to do
one less year of school and opens endless job opportunities.”

USD’s response to the state’s social worker shortage is significant and timely. USD is home to the only Council on Social Work Education-accredited MSW program in South Dakota. USD’s graduate program prepares students for more specialized social work professions, which allows for a wider scope of practice, such as clinical practice, management and leadership roles. To practice social work in South Dakota, social workers need a license from the Board of Social Work Examiners. The highest levels of licensure in the state require a master’s degree in social work.

“The MSW is becoming the preferred degree in our profession,” said Kelly Bass, DSW, chair of the USD Department of Social Work. “The BSW is a nice entry-level practice degree, but the MSW allows people to expand into clinical work. Social workers do a majority of mental health work out in the field with their licenses. We see a lot of our graduates moving on to leadership roles, and they run and administer programs and agencies. We've even seen a good group of alumni become active in political activity, community organizing and grant funding.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 12% from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. About 78,300 openings for social workers are projected each year. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force.

South Dakota ranks second, only behind Alaska, in states with the highest concentration of jobs and location quotients in child, family and school social workers, according to the BLS. With a growing population of almost 900,000, the need for social workers in the state is expected to increase, particularly in the state’s rural communities.

“The agencies up in northern South Dakota like Brown County, Aberdeen and tribal communities are lacking in the ability to recruit master's level clinicians,” Bass said. “We saw a need up there, which is why partnering with NSU made perfect sense. Together, USD and NSU will provide a pipeline of prepared professionals and fill South Dakota’s social work workforce needs.”

Erin Fouberg, associate provost and director of NSU Graduate Studies, said NSU’s partnership with USD creates new opportunities for NSU’s sociology students that help them land careers as social workers more quickly.

“NSU faculty engage sociology students in experiential learning and help students identify careers after graduating from Northern,” Fouberg said. “We wanted to address the shortage of social workers in northeastern South Dakota and define a career pathway for Northern students interested in social work. The accelerated pathway we created with USD’s MSW enables our sociology students to stay in Aberdeen and enjoy campus life and leadership opportunities during their senior year while starting their master’s degree from USD at the same time.”

Making the MSW more accessible through online delivery and providing broader experiential learning opportunities allow students to stay within their community while they earn their degree. This program also provides working professionals an opportunity to earn a MSW degree while they continue to work.

“Students who are in rural South Dakota and want to stay there now have access to an online master’s degree,” Bass said. “They can continue to develop and nurture relationships and become leaders in their community as a professional social worker. This program allows students the flexibility to be able to fill rural and tribal communities with qualified social workers.”

“Having a 3+2 option is more flexible for people,” said Brittany O’Day, MSW ‘20, a victim specialist for the FBI who earned her undergraduate degrees in sociology and psychology from NSU. “Having the option of an online MSW program gives people the ability to get the degree they want with it being a little bit more flexible. It will be great for the social work community in Aberdeen and the rural regions who are lacking in qualified social workers.”

To learn more about the USD/NSU 3+2 program, visit For more information about USD’s 3+2 program, visit,

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