Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Interdisciplinary Health Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Kieran Fogarty

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert Wertkin

Third Advisor

Dr. Mary Lagerway


Graduate school admissions, criminal background, access to higher education, policy development, social work education


Many returning citizens want to access higher educational institutions (HEIs) to access desired professions and increase employability. However, many HEIs and profession education programs have restrictions in place for returning citizens. An MSW is the most sought-after degree for returning citizens. However, social work education has restrictions in place for returning citizens. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the lived experiences of MSW returning citizen students considering these restrictions. The dissertation attempts to answer the following research questions: How did applicants who disclosed a criminal background at the time of application experience the MSW application process? Did the applicant understand the university or department’s policies regarding criminal background disclosure? What is the lived experience of an MSW student who entered the MSW program with a criminal background known by the MSW program?

The dissertation is a mixed-methods study that incorporates a cross-sectional electronic survey and interviews conducted using the Reflective Lifeworld Research phenomenological approach. MSW students in Michigan were recruited to participate in the study via e-mail invitation, Facebook notifications, and snow-ball sampling. Twenty-three individuals completed the survey and nine individuals were interviewed. The findings offer insight into the experience of MSW students during both the application process and as MSW students.

Returning citizen students discussed the differences between punitive and supportive policies, talking at length about the increased time for admissions decisions and the impact that a criminal background has on field placements. The findings offer support for current research outlining the specific gifts that returning citizens provide to HEIs and guidance for MSW programs in policy and procedure development.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access