‘We need teachers.’ USF, districts at odds over College of Education cuts.

A major disagreement over the future of teacher training in Tampa Bay played out in dueling public statements issued late Tuesday by the University of South Florida and the Pinellas County school district.

In an op-ed submitted to the Tampa Bay Times, university officials stood by their decision, announced last week, to phase out undergraduate programs in the College of Education. They said it was part of a “strategic realignment” driven in large part by a steep drop in the college’s enrollment over the last decade. Graduate programs, they said, would continue and be improved.

Related: USF will close its College of Education due to budget cuts

A short time later, the Pinellas County School Board approved a resolution criticizing USF’s decision and urging the university to reconsider. The resolution said Pinellas schools rely heavily on USF’s undergraduate program as it hires 600 to 800 new teachers each year. About a quarter of them come from USF.

Eileen Long, the board’s vice chairwoman and a USF alumna, called the university’s decision “heartbreaking.”

She spoke of current students she knows who have been told to look for other schools to complete their degrees.

“We need teachers,” Long said after reading the resolution aloud. “Teachers are the foundation of everything.” The leaders at USF, she said, “need to think twice.”

The Pasco County School Board is scheduled to consider adopting a similar resolution when it meets Nov. 3.

The two communications followed an op-ed submitted to the Times last week by Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego and his peers in Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties. The six school district leaders called USF’s decision a “terrible mistake” and “short sighted.” They criticized the revolving door of leadership in the College of Education over the last decade, and listed recommendations.

“It’s time to reimagine a more robust endeavor aligned with our state’s and community’s needs — most notably a real and significant teacher shortage,” the superintendents said. “Our region desperately needs a public College of Education to step forward with a baccalaureate pathway that is forward-thinking, accessible and a national model responsive to the educational and employment needs of the Tampa Bay area.”

Tuesday’s op-ed from USF was authored by university president Steve Currall, provost USF Ralph Wilcox and Judith Ponticell, interim dean of the College of Education.

The three leaders cited a national trend in decreased demand for four-year undergraduate degrees in education, including a 63 percent dip in undergraduate enrollment over the last 10 years at USF.

Students, they said, are seeking less costly options through the state college system and other certification programs.

“Rather than duplicate other credentialing programs that are funded by taxpayer dollars, we believe USF’s talented faculty and staff can best meet the needs of our communities through a fresh focus on world-class graduate education and research,” the USF trio said.

They said their plan was still in the early phases and that the university would be working with faculty, staff and community stakeholders in

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New center at USF College of Marine Science will help explore ocean floors

The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science, based in St. Petersburg, has received a $9 million federal grant to launch a Center for Ocean Mapping and Innovation.

The center will create maps of the seafloor and develop more efficient technologies — including underwater robots and satellites, for ocean and coastal zone mapping — that can be used to model coastal storm events, sea level rise and safe navigation in ports. The center also will develop rapid response tools that can be used in coastal disasters, according to its new website.

The grant by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, known as NOAA, will be administered over five years.

The center will be home to eight marine science faculty and offer training modules, certificate programs, graduate courses and seminars for students and professionals. Steve Murawski, USF professor and Downtown Partnership-Peter Betzer Endowed Chair of Oceanography, will serve as director.

Tom Frazer, dean of the College of Marine Science, said at a St. Petersburg Campus Board meeting on Thursday that the partnership builds on existing relationships that tie the academic hub at the university with private and public sectors, including the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute and United States Geological Survey.

“St. Pete is really a hub for all things marine sciences,” Frazer said.

In a release from the university, Frazer said most of the world’s oceans are yet to be adequately mapped.

“The mapping products generated from this collaborative effort will help us to better understand important ocean processes and sustainably manage the rich array of natural resources found in the gulf,” he said.

Rear Admiral Shepard M. Smith, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, said in the release that work from the partnership will be used to inform decisions about resource conservation and national security.


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Sadness greets USF decision to close education college. ‘It’s wrong.’

Cassie Mattison knew from an early age she was born to be a teacher.

a man and a woman standing in front of a cake: Cassie Mattison, center, won Hillsborough County's teacher of the year honors in 2013. Still teaching at Strawberry Crest High, she said she wouldn't have become a classroom educator without USF's undergraduate program.

© Times (2013)/Tampa Bay Times/TNS
Cassie Mattison, center, won Hillsborough County’s teacher of the year honors in 2013. Still teaching at Strawberry Crest High, she said she wouldn’t have become a classroom educator without USF’s undergraduate program.

“But if USF didn’t have a College of Ed, I would not be in a classroom, impacting thousands of lives over all these years,” said Mattison, Hillsborough County’s 2013 teacher of the year. “Countless former AP Literature students of mine are teachers now. One is even an assistant principal. They are all products of my classroom and the USF College of Ed. Never could I have imagined this domino effect.”

Mattison and many others like her expressed shock and dismay at the University of South Florida’s announcement this week that it would shutter the undergraduate degree program in the College of Education that has prepared thousands of teachers over the past six decades.

Even now, area school districts reported that between 30 percent and 40 percent of their faculty members had USF education degrees — more than any other institution. In Hillsborough County, for example, that translates to 3,692 teachers. In Pasco County’s teaching force, USF graduates number nearly 1,900.

The college’s enrollment shrank by nearly half over the past decade, though. Combined with budget woes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the odds did not play in the program’s favor.

Other area schools stand poised to take advantage of the position that USF ceded.

“We’re building our program,” said Colleen Beaudoin, education department chairwoman at the University of Tampa. “The timing is really good for us.”

Yet Beaudoin, a former high school teacher who serves on the Pasco County School Board, also lamented the USF decision.

“I’m disheartened for the profession,” she said.

That concern for the fate of teaching and public education in Florida came through loudly among the educators who remembered their own experiences at USF.

“I moved to the Tampa area to pursue my education at USF due to the high regard in which this program was held across the state,” Hillsborough County elementary teacher Lynn Delisle said via Facebook. “The decline in enrollment is not due to the quality of the USF program but rather the demise of the profession. No longer would I encourage anyone to go into education. It is a sad statement of our values as a nation.”

Another upset grad, Kelly Cassidy, left teaching to work for the family title business in Tampa, but says the lessons still resonate.

“It seems absurd to me that in a time where we were so quick to send kids back to school ‘because they need to learn and socialize,’ we are taking away the crucial programs that prepare teachers for these unprecedented times,” Cassidy said via email. “How are we to expect our children to be prepared for this world when we’re cutting key programs that prepare our teachers to teach them?

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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 university is expected to address the situation at 3 p.m. Thursday during a virtual press conference with USF Provost and Executive Vice President Ralph Wilcox and Judith Ponticell, interim dean of the USF College of Education.

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. 

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:

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.  

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USF closing College of Education

Ryan McKinnon
| 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,

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