Since the university announced Thursday that the USF College of Education (COE) would be eliminating its undergraduate degrees, students across the board have voiced their opinions and concerns on the decision.
The elimination of the COE’s undergraduate programs comes as USF cuts its budget due to an 8.5% decrease in state funding for the 2020-21 fiscal year. When USF Provost Ralph Wilcox announced the plan, not only were faculty and staff left wondering about their futures within the college, but also current education majors.
Kyra Denington, a junior majoring in childhood education, said she was upset from hearing the news on social media instead of receiving an official statement from the university detailing the repercussions of the decision.
“Me and my classmates were specifically angered by the university’s decision to release this news without any information about what campuses and degree programs would be impacted. We didn’t even get an email, I had to find out from Facebook,” said Denington.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Wilcox emphasized how current students will have the opportunity to finish their degrees uninterrupted. The majors offered by the COE will not be completely terminated until going through the State University System.
While current COE students will still be able to finish their degree, the decision to remove undergraduate programs is still unsettling to USF students.
“The College of Education is way more than another college on some university campus. [It] brings people together, it allows students of all backgrounds to find a place where they belong, it lets people find their passion in helping others,” said sophomore student Nina Pramberger. “The faculty is immaculate. They never stop trying to make us feel valued.
“They make us feel like a person and not just another person with a price tag over our heads.”
For Melissa Dooley, a freshman majoring in pre-elementary education, her biggest concern is on the uncertainty around potential layoffs of faculty and staff.
“I’m at a loss of words,” Dooley said. “They are letting students already admitted into the college to finish out their degrees but with professors unsure of their job security many of them are looking for different employment, leaving the kids who can finish out the program with less professors and probably less classes to choose from.”
Dooley was planning to apply for the COE’s undergraduate programs, but now she is unsure what her career path will look like.
“As for me, since I’m not admitted yet and was planning on applying to be admitted in the spring, all my plans are down the drain,” she said. “My options are to change my major, which I already did once and don’t need another step back to graduating, or transfer to a different school, which means moving away from family, friends and my boyfriend.”
Another issue that students saw with the university’s decision to cut parts of the COE specifically was the effect it would have on local school districts.
“Why couldn’t something else be cut?” said global studies in education major Graciela Cervantes. “No one is thinking about the long-term effects that this is going to have. There’s already a teacher shortage in the state and there is a teacher cut in Hillsborough County already.”
Hillsborough County plans on leaving vacant teaching positions open for this year and will be eliminating 333 of them that are already filled, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
During the press conference, Wilcox said USF’s commitment to school district partners is “as strong as ever.” He said the university will continue to serve the needs of K-12 schools across the state, but in different ways.
“We are not abandoning teacher education. We are not eliminating all teacher education degree programs,” Wilcox said. “But we believe that we have a real opportunity to strengthen our contribution to the K-12 community through national leading research initiatives and through postgraduate education, training and opportunity.”
The COE Interim Dean Judith Ponticell added that the partnership will continue to benefit students as well. She said the university will partner with local schools to provide opportunities to enrolled students.
“We will continue to partner with our schools to be sure that our undergraduates who are currently admitted and enrolled are served,” she said. “At the same time, we will be partnering with our schools and our varying advisory groups to be sure that as we’ve grown the Graduate School of Education, we are doing so … with consultation across those groups. And of course, within the college itself.
“This is not the end. This is the beginning of a series of very, very contemplated, and very purposeful discussions, planning sessions of being able to ensure that we have a smooth transition, and being able to ensure that our students at all levels continue to be served.”
Despite the administration’s reassurance in regard to the partnership with school districts, graduate English education student Laina Strickland said she is still unsure why this decision would be made considering the lack of educators already before the pandemic.
“When there is already a national teacher shortage, it seems incredibly unwise to ax a successful, well-established education program,” said Strickland.
The Economic Policy Institute predicts that the number of teachers nationwide will decrease by approximately 100,000 by 2025.
The U.S. Department of Education has developed its own site for accessing data regarding teacher shortages called “Teacher Shortage Area Reports” where people can see where there are teacher shortages in the U.S. and in what subjects or disciplines. Those using the site can see data from 1990 all the way to predictions for the 2021-2022 school year.
Students that are a part of the COE have also seen firsthand how the teacher shortage is affecting the local community.
“Hillsborough County itself is currently experiencing teacher cuts,” said senior elementary education major Kayla Paulino. “I’m in my level two of internship in a fifth-grade classroom and the teacher I’m paired with has been teaching for over 10 years and yet her job is potentially in jeopardy.”
The decision came off to many as a disregard and lack of respect for teachers as well.
“It’s hypocritical,” said senior music education student Adaline Burwell regarding the decision. “There would be no students in schools if not for the K-12 educators that got them there. A degree in education opens someone to a wealth of knowledge about how to deliver information. A traditional degree focused on content gives you the knowledge, but teaching is an entirely difficult skill.”
Senior art major Natalie Sallah agreed, calling the decision “smooth brained.”
“An institution of education should not be cutting education, and it’s really disappointing to see a school I love with my whole heart choose an action that shows its students how little education is valued,” said Sallah.
A common thread among student responses was surprise that USF is cutting what is considered one of the more successful education programs in the state.
“Especially in the climate we’re in now, teachers have been proven to be so essential and yet USF, who is leading the pack in one of the most successful education programs, is doing away with a program that is fostering competent and passionate teachers,” said Paulino. “I just feel like ‘budget cuts’ is no justification for cutting such an important program.”
While the decision would only affect the COE, students across the university also spoke up. For Ben Raudenbush, a senior majoring in marine biology, the latest decision shows how the university’s budget has been mismanaged, despite the financial constraints caused by the pandemic.
“The administration is sacrificing a crucial and well-established program contradicting how successful our growth has been for our university,” said Raudenbush.
“Ultimately it’s the faculty and future students who lose their jobs, both current and aspirational. It’s shameful, and I hope people ask the right questions in regard to how we got here.”
The overhaul of an entire college has caught the attention of many in and out of the USF community, but none more than those involved, as they understand all of the intricacies that make up the education programs and the college’s community.
“I think that this is completely ridiculous,” said Pramberger. “Coming from a student who has completely involved herself with everything education related that this university has to offer such as honor societies, clubs and the Education [Living Learning Community], the university is making the hugest mistake it could ever make.”