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About the University of Kentucky College of Social Work

Who We Are

The University of Kentucky College of Social Work (UKCOSW) has advanced social work practice for more than 80 years. As an integral part of the Commonwealth’s flagship university, we remain anchored in our mission to educate, innovate, heal, and serve. Our graduates carry this sense of responsibility forward, serving others and making a positive impact in their communities with an understanding of how issues in social justice impact lives at every turn.

Watch the video to see how issues in social justice can impact lives.

“Over the last century and a half, the University of Kentucky has been a proud and worthy instrument for the ideals of the land-grant mission. Yet, our work remains unfinished; the challenges to our state and nation persist, making the public, flagship research university more essential than ever before to finding the solutions to those challenges most intractable and unyielding to our world.”
– Eli Capilouto, University of Kentucky President

Build on Your Passion for Helping Others

We’re driven to help you find your unique pathway to success. Grounded in the Advanced Generalist model of practice, our social work program allows you to build on your passion for helping others while you work one-on-one with experts versed in child welfare, substance abuse, gerontology, and suicidology, among other areas of interest.

You will graduate from UKCOSW exceptionally prepared to succeed in your chosen area of the social work profession.


The University of Kentucky College of Social Work online MSW, and on-campus programs are accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).

This affirms our commitment to the core competencies, outcomes, and practices required by the CSWE, the nation’s premier social work accrediting body for almost 70 years.


The University of Kentucky and its programs are regularly ranked among the nation’s best:

  • No. 1 Social Work program in Kentucky by College Factual, 2019
  • Best of the Best Top 30 LGBTQ-Friendly College – Campus Pride, 2019
  • Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) and Diversity Champion Award – INSIGHT Into Diversity, 2019

What Sets UK College of Social Work Apart

  • 3 primary degree programs
  • 50 years of CSWE accreditation
  • 6,000+ graduates in the Commonwealth and beyond
  • Licensure pass-rates above the national average
  • Curricula rooted in the highest ideals of social work

Learn more about UK’s College of Social Work.

Interview with COSW Dean Justin “Jay” Miller, PhD

Listen as UK Perspectives’ Josh James interviews our Dean of UK’s College of Social Work Dr. Justin “Jay” Miller, PhD about his vision for the College to provide accessible world-class education, such as the Online MSW program, foster a culture of engagement, and invest in teaching and research.

“We really want to ensure that we are in a space to make education accessible to folks and, and really want to target populations that traditionally have been isolated from academic and educational processes.”

– Justin “Jay” Miller, PhD, Dean COSW

Josh James: Improving the lives of children, families, and the professionals who serve them, today on UK Perspectives. I’m Josh James. UK’s College of Social Work has new leadership. Dean Jay Miller took over July 1st. He’s a graduate of Western Kentucky University and Spalding University, with a doctorate from the University of Louisville. He’s worked for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, and even oversaw social service initiatives for the Army, and he joins us today on UK Perspectives. Welcome, Jay.

Jay Miller: Thanks for having me.

Josh James: All right, well first tell us a little bit about UK’s College of Social Work and your vision for the college.

Jay Miller: So UK College of Social Work, is a very dynamic place, mission-driven, consistent with the University’s land grand mission. Overall, my vision is profoundly simple. What I hope to do is to make the College of Social Work an ideal place to be employed, educated and engaged, and I think in so doing, that allows us to actualize our mission and really impact folks in the Commonwealth and beyond.

Josh James: Well, what are some of the new programs and initiatives we can expect to see under your leadership?

Jay Miller: Oh, wow. So we’re out of the gates with several new initiatives. On the research front, we have a number of new programmatic, initiatives underway. We have recently

a new award to oversee Kentucky’s START Program, which is related to substance misuse in Kentucky and really working with children and families around addressing that issue. We have other research awards related to continuing to address and outline the opioid epidemic. We have a number of educational initiatives. We just launched an online MSW program, which has been awesome. We’ve had a great response, and our faculty and staff are really excited about it.

Jay Miller: I could go on and on about initiatives. Things in the future that we’re looking towards or hoping to plan for? We’re looking at a number of new degree offerings and new certificate programs. We really want to ensure that we are in a space to make education accessible to folks and, and really want to target populations that traditionally have been isolated from academic and educational processes.

Josh James: You mentioned it a bit already, but how challenging is it to come in during this opioid crisis?

Jay Miller: Well, I mean, it’s, a really interesting time to think about service provision. I often say when it comes to substance misusing families, what happens is we tend to give families and kids what we have instead of giving what they need. [So] thinking through the contemporary challenges related to not only how to address that in a very pragmatic way, but how do we also conduct research that allows us to.. have a deeper understanding of it? How do we get people in the space where they’re prepared to go out and work with that population is where we’ve been living as of late. But it’s something that we’re called to do. It’s consistent with the mission of social work in general and the College of Social Work specifically to kind of tackle it. We never let perfect get in the way of pretty good, and we’re going to keep pushing forward to make sure that we’re doing the right thing for kids and families.

Josh James: Well, when you were appointed dean, you spoke about the need for the college to deliver “accessible world-class education, foster culture of engagement, and invest in teaching and research.” Could you elaborate on that?

Jay Miller: Absolutely. So I think that the best resource we have in the college are our people, so faculty, staff, students and alumni, and creating a space that allow those constituency groups to engage with social work in the way that is meaningful to them is really important to us as a College. So, in kind of setting forth and trying to foster that environment, what we find is that people do the work that they want to do. They do the work that they find meaningful. We have space for folks who have maybe, been away from the college for a bit to come back and be involved. And so, you know, we often talk about social problems, and I often say that social problems aren’t someone problems, they’re everyone problems, and as such, everyone has a role in coming up with the solution for those problems, and we want to create the environment for everyone to be involved.

Josh James: You’ve also said it’s important to use research to “change the system.” What are some examples of that that your students and faculty are working on right now?

Jay Miller: So one of the really unique things about the College of Social Work is we have the Training Resource Center. The Training Resource Center, which is situated out at the Coldstream Research Campus is on the frontline of programmatic research related to broad ranging kid and family issues, and one of the things that we’re able to do is, in real time, use the research that we’re doing to influence the practice that we’re doing. So it’s a very real thing for us to say that on Monday, we conduct a study, run some analyses and have some findings, that we’re able to actualize and start doing on Tuesday. And it’s because we view it as this kind of continuum where we’re conducting mutually informing research, not only for the sake of knowing and better understanding social problems, but for the sake of knowing what to do about them.

Jay Miller: And because we’re in a space where we think about social problems programmatically, and because we’ve been somewhat successful in kind of getting support to the programs, we’re able to do the research and really get into that translational space to where we do the research. We come to some conclusion related to findings, and then we immediately move to the space of testing those findings and seeing if we can improve programs.

Josh James: How new is that, that speed? That turn-around seems awfully fast.

Jay Miller: Well, it is, and I would say it’s because we try to be very intentional about the structure. Conducting very rigorous research around our own programs. We want to know that what we are doing is being impactful, and if it’s not, we want to try to understand why. So we are open to having some critical dialogue with critical reflection vis-a-vis our research, to really achieve that aim. It’s not about us or any one person or any one researcher. It’s about pushing the agenda forward and making sure that we are doing the best by the people that we try to serve.

Josh James: What challenges are facing the field of social work? Right now I’m thinking burnout, pay issues, and how does your college play a role in addressing those?

Jay Miller: Well, so yes. Contemporary practice issues are many. I mean, you mentioned a couple of them. Burnout, vicarious trauma, and it’s true of helping professions in general. When you think about a lot of the critical challenges facing that population, a lot of them are disproportionately impacted by bureaucracies and government restrictions and, resource funding restrictions and the like. The College of Social Work is actually home to the self-care lab, which is the only known entity to really explicitly address those types of issues, and so we’re conducting some cutting-edge research and clinical trials related to coming up with innovations and interventions and how to help and support the profession.

Jay Miller: I wholeheartedly believe that we have to invest in our helping professionals, so that they can provide the best help. And far too long we’ve lived in a space where our professionals kind of give everything they have, and then there’s nothing left, and I just can’t be convinced that if that’s happening that you’re able to skillfully practice whatever it is that you’re doing. And so we take serious the notion that it is our responsibility to help not only shed light on how to better address some of these challenges, but to get to a space where we’re offering support and services to try to help professionals deal with those challenges.

Josh James: And I imagine a lot of people who just get started really do kind of have that fervor for it and maybe need to be told, “You’ve got to care for yourself as well to make this work.”

Jay Miller: Oh, absolutely. One of the things that we do, and in the College of Social Work, we actually teach about self-care, so we have a self-care course that people take. We work on embedding that in all of our courses, because it’s so important to what folks are doing. Self-care is not an ancillary thing. It’s not a secondary thing. It’s a requisite for adept social work practice, and we engage it as a practice skill, so in the same way that we can teach and instruct about interviews or clinical assessments, we can teach about self-care, and it’s something that we take seriously. We value it, and as such, we see our students value it, and we want to be a resource not only while they’re here, but when they go on and move into the practice world.

Josh James: Well, lastly, on a more personal level, what brought you into the field, and, how does that impact your research?

Jay Miller: Well, I knew at the age of seven I wanted to be a social worker, and I know that sounds very fairy tale-ish, but it’s the truth. I grew up in foster care, so spent time in out of home care, was in kinship care for a while, was taken in later in life by an aunt and uncle, who I adore. But that really shaped the way that I viewed social services. At age seven when I was called to the principal’s office, which was not a rarity given some of my behavior issues (laughing), I remember interacting with the social worker, and I remember there being so many things that I wanted to share and tell her about things that was happening and going on in my life, and I just didn’t feel I had the space to do that for whatever reason.

Jay Miller: I vowed at that time that I was going to do whatever this woman did. I didn’t quite know what it was called at the time, but that I was going to do it in a different way, and that has really shaped my perception of the profession.  But it’s also provided a fervency to really think about social work in a different way, to advance the profession in a different way, to think about unique ways to educate about social work, and it’s been those personal experiences that have really sustained me and really shaped the way that I approach being Dean in the College.

Josh James: Well, our guest has been Jay Miller, the new dean of UK’s College of Social Work. You can hear our entire UK Perspectives conversation at For 91.3, WUKY, I’m Josh James.

Interview with Kalea Benner, PhD, Associate Dean of Academic and Student Affairs

Dr. Benner discusses her background, and answers some questions related to the social work field, expected student outcomes, what makes the online MSW program unique. Check out her interview on

More than 80 years of leadership in social work education.

Our Vision

At the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, our vision is to make major contributions to knowledge that will alleviate contemporary social problems as the social work profession enters its second century of service.

We consistently strive to earn a place among the foremost schools of social work through our research, teaching, community engagement, and pursuit of excellence. And we hope to invigorate the lives of everyone who joins us in these endeavors. United around collaborative public service, we possess an intellectual and moral seriousness that reflects the enormous challenges faced by our global community.

These achievements require individual excellence, effective partnerships, and innovative solutions. We are up to the task.

Our Mission

The mission of the UKCOSW is to:

  • Develop outstanding social work professionals, scholars, and leaders who serve through innovative, effective practices.
  • Cultivate a diverse academic community characterized by interpersonal fairness and social justice.
  • Promote both individual and community well-being through translational research and scholarship, exemplary teaching, and vital engagement.
  • Nurture students’ cultural competence, systematic ethical analysis, and understanding of the human condition.
  • Commit to people and social institutions throughout Kentucky, the nation, and the world.

Our Values

UKCOSW is composed of social work educators, students, and professionals who value the social justice foundation of our profession. The core values of social work guide everything we do, including service, the dignity and worth of the person, the importance of human relationships, integrity and competence.

Field Education: Work Directly in Your Community

A key component of our social work programs is Field Education. Through a series of in-person practicums, you apply what you’ve learned to direct practice in your community—all while being supervised and supported by experienced social workers.

In your practicum, you might:

  • Make a difference in the lives of youth looking for a support system at foster care agencies.
  • Provide planning and administrative services to neighborhood organizations.
  • Utilize treatment and intervention methods at addiction and substance abuse programs.
  • Connect with aging individuals at senior centers and nursing facilities.
  • And much more.

Our Field Education office coordinates with 300+ local and state agencies across Kentucky. If you’re an online learner living outside of Kentucky, they’ll work with you to find a great location for your field education.

UK History

In 1938, as the nation emerged from the Great Depression and devastating unemployment, UK established its first Department of Social Work. The initiative was led by Frances Jewell McVey—former Dean of Women and an English professor—who’d long dreamed of bringing social work education to UK.

The new department was chaired by Dr. Vivian Palmer, formerly of Macalester College and the University of Chicago, and offered undergraduate and graduate programs. Just four months later, the school’s programs were accredited by the American Association of Schools of Social Work.

In 1969, the department became the College of Social Professions, and in 1980, it was renamed the College of Social Work. Throughout its 80 years, the UKCOSW has worked to improve well-being with programs based on social work’s highest ideals.

Learn more about the University of Kentucky.