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The University of South Florida College of Education is being eliminated because of budget cuts.
A Graduate School of Education is being established in its place.
In a letter sent to faculty and staff Wednesday, Judith A. Ponticell, professor and interim dean for the College of Education, said the move was being made in an effort to reduce the college’s budget by $6.8 million — or 35% — over the next two years.
USF will continue to offer graduate courses in education, she said.
“We are strategically reimagining and reconfiguring education at USF from a comprehensive College of Education to a more focused Graduate School of Education with an appropriate organizational affiliation with another college such as the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences,” Ponticell wrote.
“This will allow us to continue to serve our students and communities, including our vital partners in our area school districts.”
On Thursday, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox said once the transition is complete, students will be able to receive teaching certificates through a fifth year of education focused on research and training.
“We are not abandoning teacher education, we are not eliminating all teacher education degree programs, but we believe that we have a real opportunity to strengthen our contribution to the K-12 community,” he said.
Wilcox added that more than half of the almost 2,400 College of Education students now enrolled at the three USF campuses are at the graduate level. In addition, enrollment is down from 5,100 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in the college a decade ago.
USF offers 14 different undergraduate education majors at its Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee campuses.
While, he couldn’t announce specifics on Thursday, Wilcox said the university should know more about how many of the College of Education’s 130 faculty members could lose their jobs by the early part of next year.
Both Wilcox and Ponticell emphasized Thursday that it’s not “the end” of USF preparing the next generation of teachers. Existing education undergraduates at USF will be able to finish the program.
“We are absolutely committed to supporting currently enrolled (undergraduate) students along their path to timely graduation – the experience will not change for them,” said Wilcox.
However, those students can expect to see what Wilcox called “a diminished array of academic programs” in the years to come.
“We’re moving away from needs that can be better served and are being better served in other ways – through the state college system (and) the alternative certification programs that are sponsored by the school districts across the Tampa Bay region,” said Wilcox.
Ponticell added the move, in part, “reflects the evolving demands of students” who are obtaining teacher certification outside of the school’s standard undergraduate program.
“This is the beginning of a series of very, very contemplative and very purposeful discussions, planning sessions, 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,” said Ponticell.
“(They won’t) be missing any kinds of courses, they won’t be missing field experiences,” she added. “We will continue to partner with our (local) schools to be sure that our undergraduates who are currently admitted and enrolled are served.”
But while Ponticell said that the college told local school districts and other collaborators about the decision on Thursday, the move still took some by surprise.
Pinellas County school superintendent Michael Grego told the Tampa Bay Times it appeared to have been made without consulting area school district leaders.
“We depend upon USF’s undergraduate program to fill our teaching needs,” said Grego, also president of the state superintendents association. “I was certainly extremely disappointed to hear about the plans.”
This action follows a recent announcement that USF would be cutting $36.7 million over the next nine months.
The Florida Board of Governors has requested the state’s 12 public universities to come up with 8.5% in budget cuts for fiscal 2020-2021 due to declining state tax and lottery revenues because of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as a 10% adjustment for fiscal 2021-2022.
Officials says the future adjustment will come either through more cuts or finding new revenue sources.
Under the plan, academic colleges like Education will have to cut a total of $13.4 million, academic support units like USF Libraries and advising have to to cut $4.9 million, and broader university support units like custodial and groundskeeping staff and information technology will have to cut $6.5 million.
USF Health will have to reduce its budget by $6.9 million, while the USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee campuses will have to cut $3.1 million and $1.9 million respectively.
In addition, USF President Steve Currall is taking a 15% pay cut, while other senior leadership are taking pay cuts of between 6 and 10%. The university has also instituted a hiring and pay increase freeze, as well as reducing travel and stopping facility renovations temporarily.
Athletics has already announced $2.5 million in reductions, which reflects the elimination of 30 positions and salary reductions or furloughs the equivalent of between 2 and 12.5% for all salaried staff members for the rest of the year.
VP of Athletics Michael Kelly, football coach Jeff Scott, and men’s basketball coach Brian Gregory are taking 15% pay cuts.
All athletics staff bonuses and automobile stipends are being suspended as well.