Information of a proposed phase-out of the graduate education program was announced Friday, Nov. 7, as a result of the university’s Charging Forward intiative. Members of the department have since petitioned the proposal in attempts to keep the graduate program alive and flourishing at UNH.
Changes were expected, but that doesn’t mean that the campus community will accept them without a fight. Students petition the recent decision of Dean Lourdes Alvarez of the College of Arts and Sciences; President Steven Kaplan; Board of Governors Chair, Philip Bartels; and Dan May, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, to phase out the Graduate Education Program at the University of New Haven.
The student-organized petition was started by graduate Stacey Frizzle on Change.org on Friday, Nov. 7 at 5 p.m.
“As a UNH undergraduate alumni and current graduate student, it saddens me to hear of this decision. I spent many weekends as an undergraduate advocating for this program to groups of potential UNH students during information sessions,” said Frizzle in her petition. “This type of program is almost unheard of with small class sizes, one year completion length, and the integration of full time teaching internship. The program offered by the university prepares students in a way that few other schools in the country are able to do so.”
There are currently 1,195 signatures, but there is an average of about 400 per day. There is no set requirement for number of signatures the petition must obtain; however, the goal is 3,803.
“Administration has just said that they will consider any contributions. The more signatures, the better,” said Frizzle.
The petition explains that UNH is unique in offering an internship program, capstone program, and 4+1 program for education. Many undergraduate students have chosen to attend the University of New Haven specifically with the intention of entering the M.S. Education program. Removing this program not only diminishes the size of the graduate student body, but also deters undergraduate students from enrolling at this school. Undergraduates currently enrolled in the 4+1 program may decide to transfer to another institution to complete their Bachelor’s degrees.
Under the 4+1 program, students pay for a four-year undergraduate education and get a get a free fifth-year master’s degree and become eligible to obtain teaching certificate, complete with teaching internships, which essentially is paid for by the school districts where they serve their internships.
Frizzle also stated in the petition that she has worked with many teachers who have graduated from the education program at UNH.
“They are, without a doubt, some of the most well-rounded, qualified, and in-demand teachers in the state of Connecticut. Many of these graduates have earned teaching jobs at top ranked public school.”
In lieu of the petition, graduate student Kirstin Surdej posted on Facebook after signing the petition, stating, “The University of New Haven wants to get rid of the highly competitive, cost-effective program I just received my Masters from. This program was the only reason I considered, and ultimately decided on, UNH as a potential school. I find it disgraceful that for all of UNH’s raving about an ‘experiential education’ they’re attempting to get rid of a program that requires over 4,000+ hours of fieldwork for completion. Please sign this petition, if only to ensure that other students who are passionate about education have the same opportunity that I did!”
Surdej finished her required coursework in June, but is planning to participate in Winter Commencement this January. Surdej is currently student teaching, which she explained is the next step after completing the Master’s coursework, and is required for state certification.
“It’s a 13 week placement under the guide of a mentor teacher and it’s a wonderful experience,” said Surdej. “I felt prepared for my placement as a student teacher after my coursework, but the 4,000 hours I’d already spent in a school during my internship increased my confidence in handling the stuff they can’t teach you in classes, like how to build trusting relationships with your students or how to handle social incidents between students. The 4+1 program allowed me to see a variety of school systems and grades, but it also allowed me to really focus on implementing content and running the whole school day by the time I got to student teaching, because I’d already been given a chance to practice handling the other stuff.”
President Kaplan has responded to the petition, stating that, “First of all, I want to assure you that this is probably the most difficult decision I have had to make in the 11 years of my presidency at UNH, primarily for many of the reasons you outline in your very thoughtful messages. I do not question the quality of the program or the fact that UNH has produced many exceptional educators. We are very proud of the impact and reputation of our program. Nevertheless, an 18-month-long, data-intensive review of all academic and non-academic units at UNH by task forces composed of faculty and staff made it clear that it was imperative for the long-term success of the University that we begin to seriously prioritize which programs would receive current or enhanced funding and which programs would be restructured or phased out. Unfortunately, education is one of the few programs that will most likely fall under the latter category.”
The “data-intensive review” mentioned above is an initiative of Charging Forward, which is a multi-year period intended to shift resources away from programs that are no longer adequately contributing to the university’s success, in order to make additional investments in programs that are performing exceptionally well.
However, Nancy Niemi, professor and chair of the education department, stated in an email sent out on Nov. 7, that closing the Education Department was not the recommendation of the Charging Forward task force. Instead, she stated, the recommendation was to restructure the finances of the Initial Certification Program, continue the Sixth Year Certificate in Instructional Technologies to attract even more students, and that the 4+1 program be given more resources to function with even more power.
“Unfortunately, the administrators of the university chose to recommend closing our program instead, claiming that teacher preparation has no place at a private institution like ours,” said Niemi. “As a department that consistently trains some of the most in-demand teachers in the state, we are devastated by this decision, and feel deeply saddened that our university chooses not to believe in the worthiness of having a teacher preparation program. We have one week to prove that, internally and externally, we are worth keeping and hold enough value for the university that our resources are warranted–that a school founded on professional education needs a department like ours.”
Over the past five years, the number of students enrolled in the teacher preparation program has declined by almost two-thirds; causing operation costs of the program to exceed the income from tuition.
“It seems the so-called marketplace is telling us that there is a very limited demand for our program,” said President Kaplan in his response to the petition. “I should add that there are a number of public universities in the region that have a longstanding mission of providing high-quality graduate teacher education programs and will likely continue to do so.”
While other schools do have similar programs, Surdej explained that, “the principals of both schools that I’ve served in have told me how wonderful the students they get from UNH are. Losing this program isn’t just bad for the university; it will reduce placements in the numerous districts UNH has partnered with over the years. Schools often look to hire former interns and student teachers when positions open, if we close the program, there will be a smaller pool to hire from and more students spending money at competing institutions instead of ours!”
President Kaplan looks to do what is in the best long-term interest of the University as a whole. “I have a deep sense of respect for those who have graduated from our program and for the faculty who have taught them, but this respect must by necessity be tempered by my obligation to all of our students – past, present and future – to ensure that the University of New Haven invests in those programs that through the aforementioned comprehensive prioritization process have been identified as being able to contribute most directly to the university’s goal of becoming one of the best comprehensive universities in the Northeast.”
If the graduate education program is phased out, current graduate students will still be able to complete their programs of study, however no new admissions would be accepted after Jan. 1, 2015.
This possible change has caused senior John Foti to reconsider his future graduate school options. “As a senior who has always thought about attending graduate school for education, this is comes as a surprise to me,” said Foti. “I recently spoke with faculty who oversee the graduate education program to talk about my future application and how the university could provide me with not only the education, but also with the tools to be a great educator down the road. When considering graduate schools and where I’d attend, UNH instantly was the number one choice because of a number of reasons. One, because the program has had wonderful success and two, by attending UNH for graduate school, I’d still be able to be connected to the community, university and memories that I have already experienced here, that have without a doubt prepared me and will assist me in my future aspirations.”
“The University has never been financially stronger, and the timing has never been better for us to be good stewards of the University’s proud history by responding to the marketplace as UNH has always done and, thus, strategically planning for the University’s future,” said President Kaplan in his response, and thanking those who have expressed their concern, assuring them that, “I take this matter very seriously and will consider all points of view before our Board of Governors votes on this matter this coming Friday.”
The petition can be found at https://www.change.org/p/lourdes-alvarez-save-the-university-of-new-haven-teacher-education-program/responses/24754. All signatures must be collected by Friday, Nov. 14, on which date the board plans to meet again.