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With the demand for social workers due to grow by more than 35 percent in West Texas in the next few years, the University of Texas at El Paso will launch a Master of Social Work program in 2010 called Social Work in a Border Region. Though UT Pan American offers a program in Social Work with Hispanic Families, UTEP’s will be the first in the nation to specialize in border issues. Courses will focus on traditional social-worker problems — domestic violence, drug addiction, physical and mental health, unemployment, poverty — but in a binational context, where identity is based on culture and language rather than citizenship. Students will also receive training in how to deal with problems specific to the region, such as human trafficking and life in families which have members dwelling on both sides of the border.

“This environment requires us to adjust our curriculum to deal with these problems specifically; we need more professionals who understand these problems,” says Mark W. Lusk, UTEP professor and chair of the Department of Social Work and associate dean of the College of Health Sciences, who will direct the program. Lusk notes that in El Paso — as in other border cities from San Diego to Tucson to Brownsville — poverty rates are double and triple the national average, more people lack health insurance, salaries are much lower and the risk of health and economic insecurity much higher. “But these problems are increasingly evident elsewhere, in states such as Iowa and Georgia, where the Hispanic populations are also growing rapidly. This program will serve Texas in important ways, and we’ve been getting tremendous support for it from all over the state, but it’s being watched in other places as well.”

In The Number Cruncher, former state demographer Steve Murdoch documents the stunning growth of the Hispanic population in Texas, and explains some of its potential consequences. In Faces of the New Texas, educators from UT El Paso, UT Brownsville, UT Pan American and Texas A&M discuss why it’s essential to all of us that these new Texans have equal access to higher education.

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