USF: We’re committed to teacher education, but things must change | Column
USF has a responsibility to meet the needs of our community while remaining good stewards of public resources, write its top officials.
The University of South Florida College of Education.
The University of South Florida College of Education.
Published Oct. 27, 2020|Updated Oct. 27, 2020

Like many organizations, the University of South Florida is engaged in work to assess and advance strategic priorities that support our academic mission while responding to the budget realities of a world changed by COVID-19.

University of South Florida President Steve Currall
University of South Florida President Steve Currall [ RYAN NOONE | Provided ]

As part of this process, a preliminary proposal emerged to reimagine and reconfigure USF’s continued commitment to supporting education.

Understandably, early details of this proposal have elicited strong reactions from partners in the community who share our passion for education. We wish to provide additional information about our deliberations and plans to support accessible pathways for those who desire to enter this vital profession.

To be clear, USF remains committed to teacher education. We are exploring strategies that will strengthen the quality of programming we offer, in alignment with our mission as a research university.

University of South Florida Provost Ralph Wilcox.
University of South Florida Provost Ralph Wilcox. [ AIMEE D. BLODGETT | University of South Florida ]

As with all of our academic programs, USF has a responsibility to continually reflect on ways to meet the needs of our community while remaining good stewards of public resources. In the case of the College of Education, we are reviewing options in the context of the following analysis:

Today, national trends indicate that fewer undergraduates are pursuing careers in education through the path of a four-year baccalaureate degree. Meanwhile, there has been a dramatic shift in the landscape of education credentialing in Florida to offer alternative, and often less costly, paths. Florida state colleges, private universities and for-profit universities can now offer their own baccalaureate degrees in education, some at a significantly lower cost. Also, Educator Preparation Institutes are delivering alternative teacher certification programs, in partnership with Florida state colleges and school districts, for college graduates without education degrees.

Interim College of Education Dean Judith Ponticell
Interim College of Education Dean Judith Ponticell [ Provided ]

These factors have greatly influenced enrollment at USF, which showed a 63 percent drop in the demand for undergraduate education degrees at USF during the last 10 years.

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.

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Teacher preparation can be provided, for example, through a five-year program that would award a master’s degree and teacher certification. We are looking at other ideas: We could continue to admit undergraduates in education to focus on specific disciplines where USF has particular strengths. This could lead to an advanced degree and “master teacher” credential.

Related: Tampa Bay school superintendents think USF made a huge mistake.

We would also continue to offer an array of doctoral programs to prepare principals, superintendents and other pre K-12 leaders. USF’s prospective Graduate School of Education would also support educators through investments in research, which last year totaled $26.5 million.

During the coming weeks, Judith Ponticell, interim dean of USF’s College of Education, and other leaders in the college will work closely with faculty and staff, and in consultation with other key stakeholders in K-12 education, to prepare a more complete plan.

Also, they will reach out to area school superintendents, educational organizations and other groups to listen to their ideas and ensure their voices are heard as we create a vision for the future of education at USF.

As we continue our planning for USF’s strategic realignment, we must not lose sight of meeting the needs of our communities while also advancing USF’s aspirations. Our commitment is to invest in new and impactful ways to be of even greater service to our region and state as a university where excellence and opportunity converge.

Steve Currall is president of the University of South Florida, Ralph Wilcox is executive vice president and provost, and Judith Ponticell is interim dean of the College of Education.