When Kevin Rivera-Mercado first heard the news about USF eliminating all undergraduate programs from the College of Education (COE), one of the first things he did was look for a plan B and start applying to other schools as the possibility of transferring was close to becoming a reality.
He intended to complete an elementary education degree at the COE, but with the uncertainties on whether education major students will get to finish their degrees, he’s making other plans.
“I’ve applied to UCF yesterday and am not willing to sit back while USF makes a decision,” said Rivera-Mercado. “Considering my advising appointment that I had for Monday was canceled, I just can’t sit and [not] do anything.”
At the same time, he encouraged fellow classmates to do the same in light of USF’s latest decision to eliminate all undergraduate programs from the COE.
“Have a backup plan,” said Rivera-Mercado. “At least send your [program] application to another school.”
The college announced the decision to transition to graduate-only instruction as a result of a $6.8 million cut from its budget and a decrease of more than 50% in its total enrollment over the last decade.
While USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said in a press conference Oct. 15 that currently enrolled undergraduate students will be able to complete their degree programs without interruption, some students on the education track are considering the option to transfer to other schools due to a lack of clarification on what the “currently enrolled” status means.
“I’m just worried, because they haven’t clarified, because we’re pre-admitted, and they’ve just clarified ‘enrolled students’ of the College of Education,” said freshman elementary education major Lauren Christiansen. “We’re technically enrolled in classes, but we’re not admitted yet. I think it’s still up in the air as to whether we’re able to stay and complete our degrees.”
A student is considered “pre-admitted” if they are majoring in an education subject but not yet admitted to an official COE program. This creates especially murky waters for underclassmen who have yet to complete any prerequisite courses like English composition, humanities or mathematics, which they need in order to be admitted into a COE program.
There’s even more pressure on these students as the Nov. 1 deadline to submit their transfer applications for spring quickly approaches.
“If this were to go into place, and I’d have to change my major, I would transfer,” said freshman elementary education major Alyssa Asmo. “Just from my personal perspective, even if a student majors in English and then passes the certification exam to be an English teacher, you aren’t getting as quality of an educator as you would have gotten if they would’ve gotten a bachelor’s in teaching English.”
Taylor Fowler, a sophomore pre-education student, just finished her application to be admitted to the COE. However, she’s now looking into transferring to another Florida university because of the announcement.
“I am considering transferring to UCF or FSU if I cannot continue at USF,” said Fowler. “If I can continue here, I’m hesitant to because I don’t know if I will be getting a quality education anymore because this program will not be a priority for the school.”
For students who were considering changing their majors to education, USF’s latest decision will impact the path they take in the upcoming semesters.
Sophomore psychology student Alexa Hilston, who was planning on switching her major to elementary education, said she tried to schedule an appointment with an adviser to see if she would still be able to change majors, but it brought her little clarity.
“I had an appointment scheduled with advising to change my major and they canceled it [because] there’s not enough [information] out there,” said Hilston.
Now, Hilston said she is worried about the possibility of transferring schools and how that might impact her career path.
“I love USF and I wouldn’t want to leave but if I can’t major in what I want then I would have to switch schools,” said Hilston. “I don’t know if they’ll let me switch to that major after this announcement, and if they don’t I’m not sure if I can stay at USF because I would need that major in order to follow my career path.”
Freshman elementary education major Catherine Parrott is having the same trouble trying to find out more information from her own adviser.
“[Our adviser] is doing the best she can to tell us absolutely everything,” said Parrott. “She’s also in the dark — she doesn’t know what’s going on. She says she will tell us the minute she finds out, but we’re all pretty much in the dark about this.”
Like Fowler and Rivera-Mercado, social science education major Adriana Robertson also applied to be enrolled in the COE for the spring semester. She said the timing of the university’s decision left her with questions about what else she could do to get the certifications needed to become a teacher.
“It seems like there’s a lot of confusion about the difference between the College of Education and an education student who’s majoring in it. Are we all safe, or is it if you’re currently in the program, or if you’re [in the process of] applying for the program in the spring?” said Robertson.
“It’s a lot of confusion and a lot of us would like to know [more].”
While there are other routes that can be taken to become a teacher without the COE programs, elementary education has a very specific curriculum in teaching its students how to teach young kids, and the program is what drew freshman elementary education major Keagan Braun to USF.
“If we get that opportunity, to stay and finish and get our degrees, I’m definitely going to do that,” said Braun. “But if worse comes to worst then yes, I will probably transfer if I have to.”
Amid the confusion regarding how pre-admitted students would be able to continue pursuing a degree in the COE program, a petition was created against the elimination of all undergraduate programs from the COE. Less than a week since it was created Oct. 15, the petition received more than 11,900 signatures as of Oct. 20.
The petition demands that the undergraduate COE programs be kept, describing the university’s plans as a “tragedy.”
The creator of the petition, junior social sciences education major Conner Diefendorf, is asking students who are considering transferring to first help in deploring the university’s decision.
“Please help us fight this thing,” said Diefendorf. “We need all the numbers we can get and without them, this would be a hard battle to fight. We aren’t doing this for me or just for USF. We are doing it for the students that live in the neighboring counties and cities.”
After an overwhelming response from USF students, Student Body Vice President Gustavo Spangher said he and Student Body President Claire Mitchell intend on inquiring about the administration’s process of making these budgetary decisions.
“Our role as student body president and vice president is to be the voices of students, and it is impossible to ignore a petition calling out the university’s decision with over 11,000 signatures at this point in time,” said Spangher in an email to The Oracle. “Therefore, we intend on voicing that to upper administration, stating how we feel like the university could have done a better job of informing all of our stakeholders on the university’s difficult situation before this decision was first announced.
“Thus, we intend on finding out as much information as we can on how this decision was made and the various options administration was considering before making this decision.”
As students pursuing education degrees figure out how they will continue their paths, and the university discloses more information going forward, the decision still made a broad impact on the USF community regardless.
“I feel like they should’ve tried to make ends meet when it comes to the College of Education,” said Robertson. “It’s really frustrating for us, it’s really disappointing. It’s sad for us as current students, it’s sad for people who were planning on coming here in the next year or two years. It’s really an upsetting situation.”