Cassie Mattison knew from an early age she was born to be a teacher.
“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? It’s wrong.”
Retired Pasco County teacher and principal Buff Johnson, who earned two degrees through the USF college, noted the important role that internships played for both teachers in training and the schools they were assigned to.
“I really feel I was well prepared to teach thanks to the USF education program, and that now is the worst time to lose this teacher training,” Johnson said via email. “To move to a total graduate program is really a money-making move for the university. The alternative programs of certification do not in any way prepare future teachers.”
And one thing that the graduates said they felt USF did well for them was to get them ready.
Mary Ergos-Green, a Pinellas County teacher, said she was “beyond sad” to hear of the undergraduate program’s demise.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in varying exceptionalities from the college, which she attended because of its strong reputation as well as its convenience. She worked full-time while pursuing her education.
“I believe I received a stellar education and am proud to be an alum,” Ergos-Green said via Facebook. “I believe the program taught me to become a better teacher.”
Joni Cagle, a Hillsborough County special education teacher who also earned two USF degrees, called USF’s education program “amazing.”
“The education and experiences I received there prepared me to become a teacher in my own classroom,” Cagle said via email. “The professors were so helpful and never hesitated to ensure that every student was successful.”
Students across the Tampa Bay area have been positively impacted by teachers and interns coming out of the program, she added.
“To think that this area will no longer have the amazing program it has been known for really hits me hard,” Cagle wrote. “The Tampa Bay area has benefited greatly from the College of Education at USF and our area will definitely be negatively impacted by its closure.”
Mattison, who teaches at Strawberry Crest High, said she struggled to imagine the full impact of the decision.
“The years of deep study of the art of teaching is nutrient-rich soil that cannot be fully replicated outside of the College of Ed,” she said. “This closure will impact countless students for generations and the lasting effects will be felt in the community at all levels and in all places.”
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story contained a quote with incorrect information about USF’s music education program, which is part of the university’s College of The Arts. The quote has been removed.)