At a time of dwindling resources for many state universities, students and faculty of Kansas University's School of Social Welfare are leaving the classroom for research and a hands-on education in social work.
"What we've been most interested in is anchoring the school more firmly in the community," said Ann Weick, KU's dean of social welfare. "We believe we have the obligation to share the knowledge we have and to help other service agencies."
The school prepares its students for professional social work, said Weick, who has been with the school since 1976. The enrollment in its bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. programs typically totals around 550 students.
Both undergraduate and graduate students spend two to three days a week volunteering in a public or private social service setting, such a nursing home, hospital, or hospice center.
"IT'S A win-win situation," Weick said. Students get practical experience in their chosen field, and agencies reap thousands of hours of free student work about 230,000 hours annually.
Faculty members work with employees of the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services and provide them with the latest in training. In return, faculty get to try new programs and ways of providing social services.
"We're interested in finding ways to make services more accessible and helpful," Weick said. "It's helpful to work with organizations like SRS which have people in the categories of our interest."
SRS workers also get quality training from faculty. Weick said the school is known internationally for turning out first-rate case workers who help people with long-term mental illnesses live in their own communities.
With participation from the school, SRS gains access to more federal dollars for programs. In return, faculty reap a wealth of free data from the programs to draw upon for research and articles in professional journals.
"OUR EXTERNALLY funded research has increased by 500 percent in the last three years, so we're really on a roll," said Weick.
In a recent study, the school ranked fifth among more than 100 social welfare schools in volume of work published, and fourth in the number of faculty who have been published.
The school beat out many other schools with much larger faculties.
"We don't have a lot of faculty. We have 27 members. But we're an unusually productive faculty," Weick said.
With no new funding in sight, school officials are trying to keep enrollment under 600 students to avoid stretching faculty too thin.
"For many years we had enrollment increases and no increase in faculty," she said.
The year the school is organizing its fourth conference on state policy in the social services, scheduled for Dec. 4.
"It's for legislators and key policy makers to learn what other states are doing in terms of issues like mental health and child welfare services," Weick said.
An earlier conference helped convince legislators to support a proposal for financing services that help the long-term mentally ill live in their communities.
"Before, we'd put these people in institutions away from their communities," Weick said.
"We've learned that most people with long-term mental illness can lead more productive lives than anyone could have guessed. It's also a less expensive way to provide services," she said.