After meeting with school superintendents from around the Tampa Bay region Friday to discuss the future of teacher education programs at the University of South Florida, university administrators reiterated previous statements that “no final decisions have been made” regarding the College of Education.
“Meetings like the one today, and many others that Interim Dean Judith Ponticell continues to participate in with school superintendents, faculty, staff, students and community members, serve as critical opportunities to share ideas and listen to input as we reimagine our education programs during a period of significant budget challenges,” Ponticell, USF president Steve Currall and provost Ralph Wilcox said in a statement.
USF has been experiencing extreme backlash from the community since mid October, when Wilcox announced the College of Education would be phasing out undergraduate programs in the College of Education and shifting its focus to graduate education, citing declining enrollments and budget cuts as the main drivers behind the plan. Since the announcement was made – and in the face of continued outcry by legislators, business leaders, trustees, alumni and school superintendents including Mike Grego – USF officials seem to be reconsidering their decision.
“While changes are needed at USF after a 63 percent drop in the college’s undergraduate enrollment over the past decade, we intend to continue offering carefully selected undergraduate degrees in education, though likely fewer than the nine baccalaureate degrees, 15 majors, five minors and 18 concentrations currently available,” the statement read.
According to USF data, over the past 10 years, total enrollment in the College of Education has dropped from 5,117 students to 2,384 students and undergraduate enrollment has fallen from 2,893 to 1,066. At the same time, USF is facing nearly $37 million in budget cuts in the coming months, and the College of Education will experience a $6.8 million financial reduction over the next two years.
However, school district leaders from across the region have repeatedly said that they rely on USF to provide a pipeline of prepared teachers to their classrooms, and losing the undergraduate education program could have devastating effects.
“The decision to phase out the College of Education will have an everlasting effect not only on Hillsborough County but the entire region,” Hillsborough County School superintendent Addison Davis said at a community meeting in late October. “It will essentially send our area’s most talented future teachers to other communities and away from our local districts.”
USF officials say they’re aware of the role they play.
“We recognize that in addition to research in the field of education, USF plays a key role in teacher preparation and certification for our region and in providing master’s and doctoral degree programs to support the development of counselors, principals, superintendents and other K-12 leadership positions,” the statement said.
In the coming weeks, USF will be receiving and reviewing information regarding the demand in K-12 schools for graduates of the undergraduate programs, and plans to make “informed and evidence-based decisions that align with the data.” School officials are also exploring how to deepen their commitment to STEM education, which is one of the proposed new academic clusters aimed at attracting more students to the school’s St. Petersburg campus.
A proposal from the College of Education will be presented to USF leadership and trustees in December.