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USF to close College of Education, reconfigure it into graduate school amid budget cuts

Earlier this month, USF announced it planned to cut $36.7 million from its overall budget.

TAMPA, Fla — The current College of Education at the University of South Florida is set to shut its doors because of budget cuts. And, it will be reimagined as a graduate school that will become part of another college on campus.

In a message to faculty and staff, Interim Dean Judith A. Ponticell wrote USF would reduce the College of Education’s annual budget allocation by $6.8 million, or 35 percent, over the next two years. The decision comes amid budget challenges linked directly to the coronavirus pandemic.

“To that end, 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 explained. “This will allow us to continue to serve our students and communities, including our vital partners in our area school districts.”

USF confirmed the news ahead of a 3 p.m. news conference that follows information first reported by student newspapers The Oracle in Tampa and USF St. Petersburg's The Crow's Nest. 

The College of Education will be reconfigured into a Graduate School of Education. Ralph Wilcox, USF Provost and Executive Vice President, said during a press conference, that all students currently enrolled in the College of Education, will be supported through their graduations.

At this point, the university does not know how many faculty members will be impacted by this change. However, administrators wanted to make it clear they will still invest in education studies.

"We are not abandoning teacher education. We are not eliminating all teacher education degree programs," Wilcox said.

"This is not the end," Ponticell said. “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.”

Enrollment in the College of Education has gone down over the years. 

In 2009, 5,117 students were enrolled in the College of Education. In 2019, 2,374 students were enrolled. 

Earlier this month, USF announced it planned to cut $36.7 million from its overall budget following a new directive given to state universities by the State University System. 

The College of Education needs to cut 35 percent of its budget, or 6.8 million dollars, over the next two years.

In an email from USF President Steven Currall sent to students, faculty and staff, he said all state universities have been asked to make plans for an 8.5 percent reduction in state funding, which equates to $36.7 million for USF. 

To begin preparations, Currall announced the university will start by reducing the salaries of the school's senior leadership, including a voluntary 15 percent reduction in his own salary.

The university also shared plans to reduce $13.4 million from its colleges this fiscal year.

Below is Ponticell's entire message to faculty and staff:

Dear Colleagues,  

Like many Institutions of Higher Education across the State and throughout the nation – USF faces significant budget challenges in the face of COVID-19 while we continue our progress as a consolidated preeminent research university. As part of our strategic budget renewal process, USF must reduce the College of Education’s annual budget allocation by $6.8 M (or 35%) over two years, a challenging task that demands a comprehensive assessment as we plan for the future of Education at USF.  

To that end, 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. This will allow us to continue to serve our students and communities, including our vital partners in our area school districts.  

This change reflects the evolving demands of students, who are increasingly seeking alternative pathways to teacher certification outside of the traditional baccalaureate degree. Going forward, USF Education students will have an opportunity to earn teacher certification through a Master of Arts in Teaching degree which may be completed in a fifth year following a baccalaureate degree in a content area, giving Education students a competitive advantage among job seekers in the market. 

A Graduate School of Education is not an unusual model for institutions in the American Association of Universities (AAU) or universities with high research activity, nor is it uncommon to house a school of education within a college with associated academic expertise and interests. Re-envisioning the College of Education as a graduate school enables us to leverage our strengths in our master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degree programs, and to place a stronger emphasis on research opportunities and contributions to our important PreK-12 partners and beyond. 

In moving forward with planning for a Graduate School of Education, leadership, faculty and staff will be guided by institutional data, best practices, the needs of the communities we serve, our accrediting body (CAEP), SACSCOC, and we will follow processes to ensure that currently enrolled students can complete their degrees at USF. 

We have much work to do together to grow forward as a Graduate School of Education. I thank each of you for your ongoing support and your commitment to high quality learning and professional experiences for our students. Every day, you make an impact. I am incredibly proud of your talents, your contributions to our field, and the dedication that each of you demonstrates in service to our students, our university and our surrounding communities.   

Thank you,  

Judith A. Ponticell 

Professor and Interim Dean
College of Education

RELATED: USF to cut $36.7M from budget following direction of state board

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