| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Faculty at the University of South Florida learned Wednesday that the university will be eliminating its College of Education, a program that had once been the fifth largest college of education in the country.
The school plans to phase out its bachelor’s of education degree over the next few years, as the current students enrolled in the program finish. The master’s program will be shifted into another college, and the university will close the door on its College of Education.
The move comes as interest in teaching nationwide has plummeted, while school districts look for ways to entice teachers into the field.
“We see, across the country, less interest in education as a field, as a career field,” said Judith Ponticell, interim Dean of the USF College of Education.
USF’s overall enrollment in the College of Education, including both undergraduate and graduate students, has fallen from 5,117 in 2009 to 2,384 last year, according to data provided by the university.
“When enrollment declines by more than 50% over a decade, it’s time for us to step back,” said Ralph Wilcox, USF provost and executive vice president.
The university is required to make major funding cuts, due to decreased tax revenue brought on by COVID-19. Each of the 12 universities in the State University System is required to cut budgets by 8.5%, which at USF equates to $36.7 million.
Wilcox said as more alternative routes to getting a teaching degree have emerged, particularly through the State College system, it was time for USF to move on from offering a bachelor’s in education and focus on the five-year master’s track that other schools, like the University of Florida, already have.
Wilcox said the university was “moving away from needs that can be better served and are being served in better ways.”
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Local school leaders saddened
The elimination of the undergraduate education program came as a surprise to local school district leaders. Students from USFSM’s College of Education went to schools in Sarasota and Manatee to complete their student teaching, where undergraduate students spend a semester teaching a class and receive feedback from the teacher.
“We have valued our partnership with USF’s College of Education and we truly hope this is not a permanent situation,” said Sarasota County Schools Chief Academic Officer Laura Kingsley. “Sarasota County Schools are filled with outstanding USF graduates.”
Manatee County School District Superintendent said she had not received any word about USF eliminating its program on Thursday afternoon, so she declined to comment specifically but said the partnership with USF had been mutually beneficial.
Faculty caught off guard
Wilcox’s announcement surprised faculty, according to professors working at USF’s Sarasota-Manatee campus.
“How does something like this happen without our own campus administration saying anything to us?” one faculty member said, asking not to be named out of concern for their job security.
Anthony Cox, chair of the Sarasota-Manatee Faculty Council, said faculty knows cuts are coming as the University grapples with pandemic fallout and that Wednesday’s announcement likely will not be the last bit of bad news for the university faculty and staff.
“I think there are other reductions coming, and I don’t know what those look like quite yet,” Cox said.
Cox said while there are no good ways to make cuts, the shift to a 5-year masters in education offers high school graduates who want to be teachers a fast-track to being highly marketable.
Details of how the shift will impact the Sarasota-Manatee campus remain to be seen. Enrollment at USFSM has decreased even more sharply than for the system overall, going from 414 in the program in 2009 to 128 in 2019.
During the same period that interest in getting a bachelor’s in education dropped precipitously, the number of students enrolled in Sarasota and Manatee schools increased by more than 10,000 students.
USFSM’s education program is home to the Florida Center for Partnerships in Arts-Integrated Teaching, often referred to as “PAiNT.” The program helps schools across the state establish partnerships with arts-focused institutions in order to incorporate the arts into the classroom.
PAiNT’s future remains uncertain, as Wilcox said the administration would be determining specific cuts to positions and programs in the coming months.