TAMPA, Fla. — The University of South Florida announced major changes to the College of Education due to budget cuts Thursday afternoon.
During a press conference, Ralph Wilcox, USF Provost and Executive Vice President said that the College of Education's annual budget would be reduced by $6.8 million over two years as part of USF's budget renewal process.
The college announced it's a small slice of the nearly $37 million in budget cuts across the board.
As a result, USF's College of Education undergraduate program will close, however, the Graduate School of Education will continue.
In a letter to faculty and staff, Interim Dean Ponticell wrote, "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."
Ponticell added that the change reflects the evolving demands of students.
"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," she said.
According to Wilcox, enrollment a decade ago was much higher than it is now, and most of the students today are graduate students, not undergrad.
“Who would have imagined a decade ago, when we had 5,117 students enrolled in the College of Education, that just last year, that number would have diminished to 2,385," Wilcox said. "[That is] more than 50% reduction in student enrollment.”
Hannah Epstein, a Junior in the College of Education at USF, says the decision to cut the program concerns her.
"It’s worrying," she said, adding Thursday was the first she heard of the change. “I’m also not shocked because of how often education is cut in general so why wouldn’t an education program be cut, funding wise.”
Wilcox says the change will not have any impact on students currently in the program, like Epstein.
They say most undergrads are seeking their teaching certificates through alternative means, like state colleges.
"We will continue to serve the needs of our K-12 partners across Tampa Bay and throughout the state of Florida but in different ways," Wilcox said. " 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 through national leading research initiatives and through post-graduate education training and opportunities."
It's unclear when certain programs within the college will begin to phase out, but Wilcox believes the College of Education will likely not be available to students looking to enroll in the 2021-2022 semesters.
ABC Action News has learned, faculty and staff layoffs are certain but its unclear when they will be announced.
“Our valued faculty and staff members will be impacted, some more than others," Wilcox said.