Online Social Work Programs in Montana
Earning an accredited online social work degree prepares graduates to help individuals, families, groups, and communities prevent and respond to social problems, including issues related to poverty, inequality, unemployment, disability, malnutrition, and substance abuse.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the social work field will grow by 16% from 2016 to 2026, with the specific job growth rate dependent upon the given social work field. For example, the BLS projects a 20% employment increase for healthcare social workers and a 19% increase for mental health and substance abuse social workers. However, child, family, and school social workers are projected to increase by 14%.
The social work field in Montana employs more than 2,800 people. Among these social work professionals, only about 400 work with mental health and substance abuse clients. The U.S. Bureau of Health Workforce (BHW) reports that Montana needs more mental care practitioners.
Additionally, healthcare social workers earn the highest wages in the state — roughly 10-25% more than social workers who have other specialization.
Education and Licensure Requirements for Social Workers in Montana
In Montana, a social worker does not need to obtain a license to practice in a nonclinical setting. However, to practice clinical social work, an individual must apply for and become certified as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) by the state's Board of Behavioral Health.
Clinical social workers in Montana must obtain an LCSW license from the Board of Behavioral Health. The path to this Montana social work license requires an applicant to earn a master's or doctoral degree from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
The LCSW credential also requires each applicant to provide proof of 3,000 hours of postgraduate supervised work experience. To begin to accrue these field hours, an individual must become a social worker license candidate (SWLC). The SWLC application fee costs $200 and requires a candidate to meet certain educational prerequisites; this fee covers the future cost of the LCSW application.
Exam Application Process and Requirements
Social work jobs in Montana account for approximately 30% of all community and social service employment in the state. To obtain an LCSW license to practice clinical social work, an individual must fulfill the education, work experience, and exam requirements as outlined by the Board of Behavioral Health. The exam — overseen by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) — represents the culminating step in this process.
Individuals must receive permission from the board to register for the ASWB exam. They must submit a completed LCSW application to the board after meeting the educational and experience requirements. Once approved, individuals may register for the clinical-level exam.
A total of 170 questions comprise the exam, which measures four key areas of competency. The exam costs $260, and students may take up to four hours to complete all of the questions. Note that only 150 questions count toward the final score. The exam distributes 20 pre-test (practice) questions throughout the test.
Once approved, a Montana social work clinical candidate must take the exam within a year. The state gives LCSW applicants three attempts to pass the exam. ASWB sends scores directly to the board.
Continuing Education and Licensure Renewal
Montana social work candidates and license holders must renew their licenses annually between November 1 and December 31. Licenses must be renewed before the start of the new year, but the Board of Behavioral Health allows 45 days additional days — until February 4 — for late renewals. Renewal fees cost $175 for LCSW active licensees, $88 for inactive licensees, and $100 for SWLC candidates.
Candidate license renewal does not require continuing education credits. However, the clinical Montana social work license does require individuals to complete continuing education. The board requires inactive LCSW licensees to complete 10 continuing education credits within the year, while active LCSW social workers must complete at least 20 hours.
Why Choose an Online Social Work Program?
Becoming an LCSW in Montana begins with earning a CSWE-accredited advanced degree. While no schools in Montana currently offer online social work programs, students can enroll in online classes in neighboring states at a discounted price through the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education's (WICHE) tuition programs, including the Western Undergraduate Exchange and the Western Regional Graduate Program.
Sixteen states participate in WICHE, with more than 160 network schools at the undergraduate level and 60 institutions at the graduate level. Through these tuition programs, students pay no more than 150% of resident tuition; as a result, they can save up to $15,000 a year.
In addition to affordability, online programs offer students increased schedule flexibility and convenience, as well as a wider selection of degrees. Also, while online programs vary, most allow students to complete clinicals/supervised hours locally with few residency requirements.