After Dodging Budget Bullets, Education Deans Fear for Future

By Daniel Gursky — March 25, 1992 7 min read

Education schools have largely been able to maintain the quality of their teacher-training programs despite the budget cuts that have hit hard at higher education in many states in the past year, say school deans and other teacher educators.

Many deans caution, however, that further reductions this year and next could cause lasting damage to their programs--and ultimately, to the nation’s next generation of teachers.

“We’re down to the point now where we’re no longer cutting fat,’' said James Payne, the dean of the University of Mississippi’s school of education. “We’re into muscle and maybe bone.’'

David Smith, the dean of the college of education at the University of Florida, noted that budget cuts of more than 7 percent in the past year and a half “have to have hurt’’ his school’s programs.

“We’re awfully near the ragged edge of additional cuts hurting us a lot more,’' he added. “We have some key positions that really, really need to be filled.’'

Along with most other education schools, the University of Florida has placed a priority on keeping core instructional programs intact. Cuts have been imposed in other areas, such as support staff, equipment purchases, and out-of-state travel.

Throughout the country, freezes on hiring are widespread. As a result, faculty members are being asked to do more despite going without pay raises for two years or more in some cases.

The cuts also have created snags for prospective teachers, who are finding it increasingly difficult to complete their training on schedule.

“Students will go to school in larger classes, they’ll have fewer options, and it may take them longer to get through’’ as the result of $325,000 in budget cuts at the college of education at Illinois State University, said Thomas Ryan, the school’s dean.

Like Illinois State, many schools have been forced to reduce the number of course sections, offer classes less often, and cut back summer-school schedules.

With fewer available sections, classes fill up faster. And for students left on waiting lists, it may take as long as a year to get into a course they need to graduate.

Things have gotten so bad at the University of Massachusetts-Boston that people who need only two or three courses for certification now have little prospect of completing their work, since the graduate college of education has restricted most of its classes to full-time students.

Pressures on Student Teaching

Similar pressures have affected student teaching, where the need for close personal supervision of classroom trainees makes it difficult to increase faculty workloads.

“We’re telling people that they may have to wait a semester or they may have to wait a year to get their student teaching done,’' said Richard Clark, the acting dean of the education school at the State University of New York at Albany. “That’s been our biggest problem.’'

Other effects may be more subtle. Mr. Ryan of Illinois State said his school tries to place student teachers in diverse settings throughout the state, which can require substantial travel from the campus in Normal. As resources for travel dwindle, he noted, so do options for school placements.

Those hardships may seem minor, however, compared with the woes of the University of Mississippi. There, seven years of tight budgets culminated this semester in the school’s decision to suspend admissions to its secondary-education program.

To save money in recent years, Ole Miss had frequently hired part-time or adjunct professors when a full-time faculty member left, especially in secondary education, Mr. Payne said.

That cost-cutting strategy backfired, however, when school officials realized that they were not employing enough full-time faculty members in secondary education to meet the standards of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Lacking the money to hire more faculty, university officials decided to suspend admissions to the secondary-education program rather than face the loss of NCATE recognition.

Enrollment Caps

The recession-driven budget cuts have come at a time when education-school enrollments are up, sometimes to their highest levels in more than 10 years, and more students want to get into teacher-training programs.

As a result, the University of Florida and a number of other schools have had to cap enrollment for the first time. “If we admitted more people,’' Mr. Smith said, “we simply couldn’t handle the course demands that they would have.’'

Even schools that have fared relatively well in recent years have found it impossible to meet the growing student demand.

The University of New Hampshire’s department of education, for example, has been able to avoid big cuts.

Nevertheless, “We’re having to turn away a lot of students,’' said Michael Andrew, the department’s director of teacher education. “Many of them counted on becoming teachers, but we don’t have the resources to handle the demand.’'

Some deans also question the wisdom of policies that attempt to save money today by limiting the number of teachers education schools can produce for the future.

“You can make a cut now, and it appears to be painless,’' said William Dandridge, the acting dean of the graduate college of education at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. “Then down the road, when we have so many teachers who are approaching the end of their careers and we have a mass exodus, who will replace them?’'

“Will we turn to emergency certification to fill classrooms and not pay sufficient attention to quality and skill and expertise?’' he asked.

Mr. Dandridge’s institution is one of many that also has raised tuition to help compensate for smaller outlays of state money. The university, which has endured eight budget reductions in the past 20 months, currently receives about $41 million in state support, compared with $62 million in 1988-89.

A tuition increase of $100 or $200 might not be a burden for many students, Mr. Dandridge conceded. But, he argued, for others--especially older students with children--such increases can mean the difference between attending school full-time or having to reduce their course load and work part-time, again extending the length of their training.

Teaching has traditionally been a career choice for young people from working-class backgrounds who were the first in their family to attend college, noted Mr. Ryan of Illinois State. Tuition increases make it harder for those students, he said, and hinder universities’ efforts to increase the number of teaching candidates from minority groups.

Cutting in the Middle

The volatile fiscal climate of the current recession has been particularly difficult for many institutions because it has forced them to make mid-year cuts, at a time when most of their funds have already been allocated.

“You don’t have any flexibility with mid-cycle cuts,’' Mr. Smith of the University of Florida said.

Only about 15 percent of his budget--travel, supplies, phone bills, and other day-to-day costs--can realistically be trimmed, Mr. Smith estimated. Most cuts have come out of support services as the school has attempted to limit the damage to its academic programs.

“That compounds your problems when you’re trying to deliver the same quality program to the same number of students,’' he said. “It just can’t be done.’'

Rather than simply trying to make do with less money, some state institutions have also turned to private fund raising.

One such effort was given a prominent showcase at last month’s annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education in San Antonio, where officials from Virginia Commonwealth University presented a workshop outlining their aggressive attempts to raise money for the school of education from alumni and other individuals and organizations.

The V.C.U. education school hired a full-time development officer, who has helped bring in individual donations for endowed scholarships and professorships as well as a gift to help faculty travel to conferences.

Fund-raising efforts should focus more on individuals, including graduates who may have saved significant amounts during their careers as educators, urged Charles Ruch, V.C.U.'s provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Blue Sky Ahead?

Despite the stresses of implementing budget cuts, some education-school deans say the process can bring benefits.

“There was some merit in us being forced to re-examine our programs,’' said the University of Mississippi’s Mr. Payne. “There’s no question that we had courses on the books that it helped us all to get off the books.’'

The school eliminated some programs, such as one in dance, that were available in both the education school and in the liberal arts.

But money-saving measures almost everywhere have gone beyond such simple remedies. And as lawmakers develop their budgets for next year, many states are considering further reductions that could be even larger than those already sustained by education schools.

“It’s going to make writing the budget for the 1992-93 year pretty difficult,’' said William Lascher, the associate dean for administration at the University of Texas-Austin’s college of education. “The state’s budget problems continue, and the situation is really uncertain.’'

Even with no obvious bright spots ahead, though, members of AACTE remain optimistic, said David Imig, the group’s executive director.

“I work with a group of people who always see blue sky,’' Mr. Imig noted. “Most people still have faith that there’s going to be a recognition of the value of higher education and that the budget situation is going to turn around.’'

A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 1992 edition of Education Week as After Dodging Budget Bullets, Education Deans Fear for Future