HEF Board of Directors: Our Students, Community Can’t Afford to Lose USF College of Education Graduates

By: Royce Reed

It is with a sense of urgency that members of Hillsborough Education Foundation’s (HEF) Board of Directors express our deep concern regarding the University of South Florida’s recent recommendations to eliminate the undergraduate degree in the College of Education and dramatically reduce the number of baccalaureate certified teachers entering the workforce in our area. We believe education is key to a prosperous community—preparing teachers to serve our communities is critical to ensuring growth and stability within the Tampa Bay Region. HEF is committed to the success of all students, including by assuring that K-12 students will have quality teachers in their classrooms.

Recent data from the Florida Department of Education illustrates how vital the College of Education graduates are to Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS)—the seventh largest school district in the nation:

  • 45% of HCPS teachers are USF graduates. They are highly valued by our district, our schools and parents.
  • Last year, more than 200 new teachers from USF entered our classrooms.
  • 25% are teaching in our highest needs “Transformation Network” schools and play an important role in building equity in education for all students.

Hillsborough Education Foundation is dedicated to investing in education and the future of our community. HEF is focused solely on strengthening public education in Hillsborough County and that cannot and will not happen without effective teachers in our classrooms.

Research shows there is a direct link between experienced teachers and increased student learning gains. Without elevated focus on valuing this profession, Florida will continue to see 40% of new teachers leave the classroom within the first 5 years. Florida has a serious and growing teacher shortage. Acknowledging this situation, last year Governor DeSantis and the Legislature increased teacher salaries. The Board of Governors of the State University System has recognized the challenge and has made teacher education a “Program of Strategic Emphasis.” USF’s move to diminish its teacher training program seems at odds with Florida’s stated goal to address economic development and key labor market demands for university graduates.

USF suggests that other local institutions can fill the gap if it abandons its undergraduate programs in education. But Hillsborough Community College does not currently offer a BA in education. It provides a fast-track certification program for those with a four-year degree. The idea that our students who want to teach in the region must either find a high-cost private college in the region—or pursue their education outside the region and potentially not return—is not what the founders of USF nor the taxpayers of our area expect.

Members of HEF’s Board recognize the tremendous fiscal challenges facing USF and understand that enrollment in colleges of education is declining nationwide. In spite of this fact, USF remains one of the highest producers of graduates in the state university system. It is our hope as USF further examines limiting its offerings for undergraduate degrees in education, the number of graduates will not be diminished.

We ask USF leaders to continue this important conversation before making a final decision, and we offer to collaborate with USF and strategic community partners to find innovative solutions to reimagine the College of Education without terminating the program that has been so beneficial to all.

If we want Tampa Bay to be the best it can be today and for all our tomorrows, then it starts with investing in education—and our future teachers.

Royce Reed is the chairman of Hillsborough Education Foundation’s Board of Directors.