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Great Falls College and UM create path for students to get social work degree

Katie Maphies
Posted at 9:50 AM, Apr 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 11:58:42-04

GREAT FALLS — Katie Maphies was overjoyed to learn she would be able to get a bachelor’s degree in social work while keeping her job as a hair stylist in Great Falls without needing to move, thanks to a partnership between Great Falls College MSU and the University of Montana in Missoula. “I’m so happy they did this,” she said about the agreement.

The way it will work is northcentral Montana students like Maphies will be able to get their associate’s degree in two years from Great Falls College before transferring to the University of Montana where they will take blended classes online for another two years to complete their bachelor of arts in social work.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for students in the region who aren’t able to move but are interested in going into the social work field,” said Dr. Heidi Pasek, a social sciences faculty member at Great Falls College. “There is a great need in northcentral Montana for social workers. These are high-paying jobs that will enrich our community, and there is now a path to a bachelor’s degree right here. It’s very exciting.”

There is a huge need across Montana, including northcentral Montana, for social workers, according to statistics from Emsi, a leading provider of market data for educators. The average pay for social workers in Montana is $40,090 a year, according to EMSI.

The 2+2 bachelor of social work program is a unique program that has demonstrated a commitment to tribal, rural and metro communities through its successful partnerships with various community colleges and tribal colleges. It will be a godsend for Maphies, who graduated from C.M. Russell High School in 2008 and didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she went to beauty school and has been working in that industry ever since.

She is completing her fifth semester at Great Falls College while continuing to work after deciding a couple years ago to return to school with the aim of working with children. “What it really comes down to is I want to work with kids,” Maphies said. “I believe I can have a positive impact working with kids.”

She was figuring out next steps when working with her advisor, Troy Stoddard, at Great Falls College when he told her about the new arrangement with UM. It sounded perfect to Maphies, who ultimately would like to get a master’s degree in psychology to work with children. She is unsure whether that will be in a one-on-one setting or in the schools or even perhaps in the juvenile detention center.

“I just love kids, and we all have our fair share of things that have happened to us in the past,” she explained. “Everyone has a story.”

The agreement with UM means she will be able to continue working as a hair stylist, stay in her home community and get her bachelor’s before getting her master’s.

But even if the master’s doesn’t work out – “Life is crazy,” she acknowledged. “It’s hard to commit to go to school for four years because a lot can happen in five minutes, let alone four years” – she said she will be happy just so long as she can work with children. “I’m going to go the social work route because let’s just say life happens,” she said. “I would be OK working in that field even if I just got a bachelor’s.”

To make this possible for students like Maphies, Great Falls College has added two social work courses to fulfill prerequisites from UM. Both classes will be available to in-person and online students, so students will be able to get their associate’s and prerequisites entirely online and then transfer into UM’s online program. They also have the option to take the classes in-person at Great Falls College.

“Students who already have an associate’s degree but need the two social work courses – Introduction to Social Welfare and Introduction to Social Work Practice – can complete those classes in the fall and spring of next school year and then apply to the program at UM,” said Dr. Leanne Frost, executive director of instruction at Great Falls College. “This is an incredible opportunity.”

Since its initial partnership with Flathead Valley Community College in 2010, the program began a concerted focus on expansion focused on building collaborative relationships with rural and tribal communities in Montana. It has grown to include five tribal colleges (Blackfeet, Blackfeet Reservation; Stone Child, Rocky Boy Reservation; Aaniiih Nakoda, Fort Belknap Reservation; Fort Peck, Fort Peck Reservation; Chief Dull Knife, Northern Cheyenne Reservation) and two rural colleges (Miles Community College, Miles City; Highlands Tech, Butte). With the agreement with Great Falls College, it also now partners with Flathead Valley Community College and Helena College.

The positions being filled by graduates include dually-licensed addictions counselors, integrated healthcare workers, tribal court advocates, child and family services, community organizers, program managers and policy workers.

For Maphies, it is a great opportunity to make a difference in her community. “I love kids, and I want to be a voice for them,” she said.

You can learn more by clicking here to visit the program page on the UM website.

You can also call Great Falls College at 406-268-3700, email, or click here to visit the Great Falls College website.