ongoing problem in small rural programs is the recruitment of qualified faculty. This is particularly
true in rural areas that are more than fifty miles from a large urban area. Issues cited by programs
include few applicants, applicants who apply to get a better deal at their present institution and applicants
who cite the distance from libraries and other professional resources. Other issues are often not spoken
about and include lower salaries in general than larger schools as well as competition with larger universities with similar
programs, heavier teaching loads, lack of appropriate jobs for trailing spouses, no time for research although there is some
pressure to publish for tenure and promotion, not enough resources for attending conferences and expectations
that the new hire become a part of the university and of the community. Still other issues surface when
the new hire arrives. If the applicant is single and looking for a life partner, it is
often difficult to find appropriate venues other than church to meet prospective partners. There
is a lack of night life and of city amenities that most people who live in large urban areas take for granted.
Often departments expect single faculty to pull more time with students, including out of town chaperonage on field
trips. Sometimes faculty choose to commute from fifty or more miles away to have the
amenities of a larger city and this keeps the new hire from bonding into the community where the college
or university is located.
The result may be that the program is forced to hire faculty from
the MSW pool in the area. This is a problem because the number of MSWs is often very small and this pulls
MSWs from service delivery in the region. There are other problems for the program as well.
Often the MSWs have no academic experience, come from the same two or three universities, and are geographically far
removed from cutting edge professional education. Often too they have not kept up with new developments
in teaching social work. The result is incestuous and can mean in some cases that students are taught
from best practices of at least a decade ago. Students are often not exposed to diversity within the program
since students who attend small rural programs tend to be place bound and faculty from the region often mirror only the dominant
culture. Students often do not find their ideas challenged nor prejudices overcome through
interaction with the other. Students also do not receive a diversity of practice philosophies.
If the program is
fortunate enough to be able to recruit a faculty member or two from outside the area, there is resentment
about ideas that are not in keeping with what the program has done for many years. Change
is slow, and may not take place at all. The new hire often is excluded from the community life that informs
university life in small rural areas, and feels isolated and unwelcome. Often the life
of both the town and the university faculty centers around religious faith that is evangelical and fundamentalist.
Many new hires from large urban areas do not share the same belief system and often find that the local religious belief
system is reflected in the classroom by local faculty. Faculty with alternative life styles or who are
homosexual feel unwelcome, and often feel threatened. Further, there is a steep learning curve for new
hires outside the local area. Rural universities often function as employment for their own graduates,
and the result is that newer ways of running a university have not been adopted. Rural universities often
run additional programs away from the main campus. Faculty who teach in these programs often find themselves
dealing with issues that are more properly handled by administrative personnel, such as the registrar on the main campus.
Rural ways are different than those of larger areas. Rural people want to know their faculty
on a more personal level, that is, they want to know about the hire as a person, and push the new hire to share information
that may be boundary blurring, such as information about marriages, divorces, and prospective partners as
well as about the new hire’s faith life. In fact, for programs in colleges and
universities under religious auspices, the conversation about faith life takes place during the interview process.
This in itself can make it difficult for the program to appeal to potential new hires.
programs that move from the BSW to the MSW face even greater difficulties. It is very hard to hire the
number of required PhDs, since there are usually few people in the area with both the MSW and a PhD.
Also the number of faculty required are more than in the BSW program, and many small rural colleges and universities
use the concept of teaching across programs to make up the numbers for the MSW program, thus robbing the BSW program of resources
and faculty. It is often difficult to find appropriate MSW placements for the practicum in the area and
this may mean that the students must travel out of the area to a placement. This also means that oversight
of the field placement will take the faculty member out of the area, consuming more time in travel than in oversight. This
limits the faculty member’s time for his/her own scholarly endeavor. Because there is a dearth of
MSW supervisors for MSW students more faculty have to take on the additional responsibility of field liaison without commensurate release
time from other responsibilities.
Communities too are often not ready for the new hire from outside the region. The standard
of practice may not have changed in 30 years. New ideas about practice and working from the strengths and
empowerment approach may be threatening to rural agencies hosting both MSW and BSW field placements. If
the new hire is named to community boards, there is often shock and disappointment about the perceived role
as well as the make up of the board in rural areas. Often board meetings center around
discussion of people and issues that are not germane to work of the agency. Further, staff are often hired
on the basis of who they know rather than on the basis of what they know, that is educational credentials. The
board chair often assumes inordinate power and meddles in the day to day activities of the agency in a way that would not
be permitted in a more urban area. The new hire often feels as if s/he is Alice in Wonderland taking
the trip down the rabbit hole. Further, there are few of the large family service type
agencies that large urban areas take for granted. In fact, most of the larger agencies are public
social service agencies such as child protection and welfare.
Yet, many faculty who come to rural programs to teach state that they would never
want to teach anywhere else. They cite small town friendliness, the ability to develop close friendships
with a wide variety of people, and the informality as well as the emphasis on teaching rather than research that is often
a characteristic of small rural programs. Many prefer the students since many students
feel privileged to be getting an education. Students are likely to have rural ethics that mean that assignments
are carried out faithfully. Rural areas also provide social work faculty with fertile ground to practice
some long held traditional methods of practice such as community organizing, and community development, as well as to use
skills such as networking and brokering. In many small rural universities, social work is one of the flag
ship programs. Higher administration is proud to have an accredited social work program and often
is very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the program and is intimately acquainted with faculty since social work is
often the “go to” program on campus. There is great satisfaction for some faculty members in
being associated with the premier program on campus. This also leads to more opportunities for power
within the university for social work faculty. Some faculty begin to develop research areas related to
small rural areas and know that in sharing the knowledge gained they are performing a vital service. Many
view small rural areas as excellent places to raise a family or as excellent places to retire after their professional career
is ended. Recruiting faculty who have served much of their professional career in larger urban areas
is an excellent strategy as well. These people often already have a pension from the larger university
and are willing to work for a smaller salary in return for an enhanced quality of life in the rural area.
So, how does a small rural program,
once faculty are recruited and hired, retain faculty? One way is to offer instruction in the culture of
the area rather than letting the new hire find out through trial and error. Explaining how things get done
in the college or university is also critical, since small educational institutions generally
carry out functions related to faculty differently than do larger ones. Also, too, every
college and university is somewhat different in terms of whom to approach for what so mentorship around university processes
is critical. Helping the new faculty member come up with a research agenda [as opposed to a publication
agenda] is useful since the new faculty member develops an area of expertise related to the local region. Another
way is to offer mentorship and friendship to new hires. Showing new hires the attractions of the area,
introducing the new hire to community friends, and helping with finding a suitable place to live are all important elements
in retention. Something as simple as inviting the new hire to dinner on holidays can pay dividends in terms
of retention. Demonstrating support for the new hire’s ideas is also important.
Modeling a willingness to learn new ways by entrenched faculty is often the key to the new hire’s acceptance
by students and the community.
Through appropriate effort on the part of the entrenched faculty,
the new hire can become a valued program faculty member as well as a valued community member. This is one
key to retention. It is also a key to recruitment, because the new hire, if pleased with the university
or college, can help attract other new hires from his/her professional base. Another
recruiting strategy that is often successful is inviting visiting professors to share their expertise with
the small rural university for a semester or a year. These people often not only enrich the campus where
they are visiting but often go back to their home campus and recruit other faculty members to do the same