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Social Work Teacher: Career and Salary Overview


With an advanced degree in social work, professionals can access teaching and research jobs in academia. Graduate schools of social work hire part-time lecturers and professors who hold at least a master's degree in social work, but they prefer candidates with a doctorate, especially for tenure-track positions.

A Ph.D. in social work gives seasoned social workers the advanced knowledge and skills in psychology, pedagogy, research, and theory to create lesson plans and lead classrooms of master's-level social work students. Being a professor also requires conducting research and regularly publishing work in academic publications.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that postsecondary teachers make a median annual salary of $79,540. However, exact salaries depend on experience, setting, location, and educational level. Wages also vary for individuals working at community colleges versus four-year universities.

Explore this guide in more detail to learn about the salary differences for social work teachers across the nation, including information on additional credentials that can boost your earning power.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are social work teachers required to publish research?

Yes. Maintaining a tenure-track position in academia requires that professors publish frequently in scholarly journals. Social work teachers spend a substantial amount of time conducting research to show empirical evidence that certain interventions work. While publishing their work and presenting their findings at conferences, professors also teach classes.

Can you be a teacher with an MSW?

Yes. Candidates with a master's in social work can typically find jobs teaching. Community colleges may hire a social work teacher who holds a master's in social work. Similarly, four-year colleges also often hire master's graduates for adjunct lecturer positions. However, tenure-track professor positions typically only hire Ph.D. candidates and individuals who already hold a doctoral degree.

How long does it take to become a social work teacher?

Many doctorate programs require that candidates fulfill a teaching component, which impacts the duration of their program. While earning their Ph.D., students often teach 1-2 classes. At the end of a social work program, which typically takes about 5-6 years, graduates have teaching experience. The exact graduation timeline depends on the amount of time a Ph.D. candidate needs to complete their dissertation.

Is a social work teacher a mandated reporter?

Social workers have a duty, as mandated reporters, to report to authorities any suspicion of abuse. Faculty at most colleges also have an obligation to report any suspect incidence of violence or sexual harassment. Social work teachers gain understanding about their specific obligations under law when they undergo the hiring process.

Top Paying Industries for Social Work Teachers

Social work teachers find employment in colleges, universities, professional schools, and junior colleges. The salary a social work teacher earns depends on their degree, experience, and the setting where they work.

Working at a four-year college or university pays an annual mean wage of $78,320, according to the BLS. Junior colleges pay social work teachers less, earning an annual mean wage of $72,090.

Top Paying States for Social Work Teachers

Nationwide, salaries for social work teachers vary by state and area. Individual salaries typically account for a location's population density and cost of living.

The BLS reports New York, Maryland, Washington, Kansas, and California as the top five states with the highest social work teacher salaries. Social work teachers in New York earn an annual mean wage of $96,080.

New York also ranks high among the states with the highest concentration of social work teachers, with 2,750 employed. Arkansas, Missouri, Delaware, and South Dakota make up the other states with the highest concentration of social work teachers.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Social Work Teachers

Social work teachers can expect to see pay variations depending on if they live and work in a rural area or a populous city. Metropolitan areas typically pay higher salaries to accommodate for their higher cost of living rates.

Social work teachers living in the New York City and Newark areas make an annual mean pay of $97,040, the highest salaries for the profession. Among the other top-paying districts for social workers are Charlotte, Washington D.C., Albany, Seattle, and Baltimore.

Nonmetropolitan areas, such as east South Dakota, southwest coastal North Carolina, and mountain North Carolina make far less than those in major metropolitan areas. Social work teachers in east South Dakota make a mean salary of $77,490 a year, according to the BLS.

Salary and Job Growth for Social Work Teachers

Different variables, such as student enrollment, influence vacancies for social work teachers. According to O*Net Online, job growth for social work teachers should exceed other occupations, with a projected employment growth of 7-10% through 2028, an estimated 1,500 positions.

The projected job growth stems from an expected increase of attendance at postsecondary institutions and a demand for part-time teachers. The BLS projects that overall employment for all postsecondary teachers should grow by 11% from 2018-28. Tenure-track full-time professors may become more of a rarity, considering the current trend of hiring part-time adjunct instructors at institutions of higher education.

The exact number of new hires at colleges also relies on state, city, and federal budgets. Following the coronavirus outbreak, many state and city colleges cut budgets, which ultimately affects the number of job openings.

Getting tenure, which provides a safeguard from an unjust firing, remains a goal of most professors. With a stellar teaching track record and a history of publishing quality work, professors at some institutions can receive tenure in less than 10 years.

How to Become a Social Work Teacher

The traditional route to a career as a social work teacher begins with a four-year bachelor's in social work. Most graduates go on to earn their master's in social work, which takes about two years to complete. A master's degree serves as the minimum requirement needed for a part-time, non-tenure postsecondary teacher position.

In current times, when obtaining tenure has become increasingly difficult, most social work teachers see earning a Ph.D. as a necessity.

A doctoral degree in social work prepares students to land university teaching and research positions. Programs typically require students to complete curriculum on social work theory, ethical practices, statistics, and research. The classroom work takes about two years to complete and may culminate in an exam.

Ph.D. candidates devote the bulk of the program, about 2-4 years, to researching and writing their dissertation. Online doctorate in social work programs may offer accelerated paths. In total, students take about 5-6 years to earn a Ph.D.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

A social work teacher trains undergraduate and master's students to earn a license in the field. Considering this, most postsecondary teachers also hold a state license. Many also gain significant experience as clinical social workers before entering teaching, which requires licensure.

A doctorate serves as the highest degree a social worker can earn. Earning a Ph.D. in social work does not lead to a higher level of licensure. However, the terminal degree permits social workers to teach and supervise undergraduate and master's-level social work students. Social work teachers often do not hold licensure.