a woman sitting behind a table
Story Social Science

Caring for Californians

Alisia Ruble

See how the CSU plans to use state grant money to expand social work degree program capacity and diversify the behavioral health workforce.

a woman sitting behind a table

Social workers advocate for and improve the lives of California's most vulnerable communities, including children and adolescents, individuals with medical conditions and mental health concerns, and those experiencing the effects of poverty and homelessness. As the state rebounds from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is prioritizing expanding support services for these communities.

“Access to behavioral health care and expanding this workforce pipeline in California is critically important," California Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Mark Ghaly, M.D., said in a press release. “Our goal, under the governor's vision, is to reimagine behavioral health and emotional well-being for all children, adults and families in California."

To that end, 11 California State Universities were recently awarded a combined $35 million by the California Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) to increase the state's supply of staff trained to provide behavioral health care. Grant funding will be used to develop new social work programs and expand existing ones, especially programs training students to serve children and youth.

The CSU recipients are Chico State, Cal State East Bay, Cal Poly Humboldt, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State LA, CSU Monterey Bay, CSUN, Cal State San Bernardino, San Diego State, San Francisco State and CSU San Marcos.

“These awards reinforce the state's confidence in the CSU to provide quality degree programs that prepare students for in-demand, highly skilled careers and help ease workforce shortages," says Ganesh Raman, Ph.D., assistant vice chancellor for research at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “Increasing the number of social work degrees is a component of the Governor's multi​​year budget compact with the CSU."

In February 2023, the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California (CBHDA) released a study on the number of healthcare workers available in the state that revealed more than 90 percent of the state's counties reported difficulty in recruiting licensed clinical social workers, licensed marriage and family counselors and psychiatrists.

And, with a 'silver tsunami'the unprecedented increase in the number of older people in the worldexpected to be felt by 2030, the state is taking action now to prevent further shortages.

“The vacancy rate is very high [in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties]," says Maria Gurrola, Ph.D., chair of the CSU Monterey Bay Department of Social Work. “Currently, we don't have enough social workers or supervisors available for our students to complete their two years of practicum, which is like an internship. This grant will allow us to hire another supervisor to support agencies that don't have one."

At CSUMB, the funding will enable the Department of Social Work to add three adjunct instructors to its seven-member faculty, hire a field supervisor and increase the number of students admitted to the program in fall 2023 from 50 to 74. In each of the four remaining years of the grant, the fall cohort will be 62 students, an increase of 12 over the current level.

Cal State San Bernardino​ plans to use the funding to expand existing social work programs at its main campus and create a Master of Social Work (MSW) program at its ​​Palm Desert Campus (PDC), which will start in fall 2024. The funds will also go toward offering an MSW option to current students obtaining a bachelor's degree in social work (BASW) at the Palm Desert Campus.

Over the next 14 months, the CSUSB School of Social Work will work to gain approval from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) for the PDC MSW program and develop high-quality MSW internship sites in the Coachella Valley and surrounding areas.

The CBHDA study also found that behavioral health professionals do not reflect the cultural or linguistic diversity of their client communities. For example, researchers found most behavioral health professionals speak only English, even though nearly 27 percent of the more than 39 million Californians speak Spanish according to the latest census.

To address this issue, Cal State LA faculty plan to use the grant money to develop a culturally sensitive and competent behavioral health workforce in addition to expanding program capacity, says Siyon Rhee, Ph.D., director of the Cal State LA School of Social Work​ in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services.

“There are tremendous needs to provide well-trained social work professionals in behavioral health care, such as mental health, substance use, intimate partner abuse, child maltreatment and more," Dr. Rhee says. “As the School of Social Work is particularly mindful of the richness and complexity found through socially diverse and multicultural surrounding communities, we are truly excited with this grant opportunity."

The five-year state grant program is supported by the Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI) and the Workforce for a Healthy California for All package from the 2023 Budget Act. All programs aim to transform California's health and human services system to provide all Californians access to services for emerging and existing behavioral health needs.

The value of a California State University degree is unmatched. We offer an affordable, high-quality education taught by world-class faculty members along with strong career advising and hands-on experiences that ensure graduates are job-ready and highly desired by employers. The university works with industry professionals to ensure our more than 4,100 degree programs are relevant to California's workforce needs. Earning a CSU degree has the potential to change the trajectory of students' lives, as well as the lives of their family members, by opening doors to opportunities for upward mobility.

Learn about applying to the CSU