The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday March 22nd

Budget cuts affect schools of education, social work

Education lowers enrollment, social work ceases programs

Reacting to a mandated 5 percent campuswide budget cut, one UNC school has looked to salvage its core in Chapel Hill, while another has looked to implement the cut based on the state’s employment needs.

With the demand for middle school teachers exceeding the demand for instructors in lower grade levels, the School of Education has targeted its undergraduate elementary education program for enrollment cuts this fall.

Program cuts
  • The School of Education’s undergraduate elementary education program will enroll between 30 and 35 fewer students in 2011 than it did in 2010. It took on 109 students in 2010. It will take between 74 and 79 students in 2011.
  • The School of Social Work has suspended distance education programs in Winston-Salem and Flat Rock. The move resulted in one layoff and another resignation. There are 10 other master’s-level social work programs in the state.

Bill McDiarmid, the school’s dean, said that while the program took on 109 students in 2010, it will only take between 74 and 79 students in 2011.

Meanwhile, the School of Social Work has suspended its distance education programs in Winston-Salem and Little Rock. The move resulted in one layoff and another resignation and could hold dire consequences for the future of social work in the state, officials said.

Serving educational needs

As a high school student, sophomore Sarah Carithers said she had little idea of the consequences that would follow her decision not to apply for the N.C. Teaching Fellows Program, which provides a four-year scholarship to 500 high school seniors who intend to teach after they graduate from a UNC-system school.

At the time, she thought she wanted to teach elementary school, but she hesitated when it came time to submit the application. She wasn’t ready to commit to four years of teaching at a school after college.

Her mind has since changed. And with the enrollment cuts giving priority to students sponsored by the state, she is worried about her prospects for entering UNC’s elementary education program.

“It’s even more nerve-wracking knowing this,” she said.

Communications director Michael Hobbs said the school gives special consideration to students who the state is sponsoring through the teaching fellows program because they will eventually become state employees.

Though there is a need for new teachers in North Carolina, Deborah Eaker-Rich, an assistant dean of the school, said the school decided to cut enrollment in its elementary program partly because it has been receiving fewer applications in recent years.

But when meeting students’ needs, Eaker-Rich said the school must also heed the needs of the state. And while the state needs elementary school teachers, she said it needs middle grades and math and science teachers more.

“If we know there’s no demand for basket weavers, we’ll be irresponsible as a school if we turn out a bunch of basket weavers,” she said.

Eaker-Rich said many students denied entry to the elementary education program will have the chance to apply to the kindergarten program instead. She said she expects 35 students to enroll in the kindergarten program next fall, 10 more than last year.

Carithers said she would take that option, even though it isn’t quite what she wants.

“I really don’t want to teach kindergarten,” she said.

Eaker-Rich said she does not see the enrollment cuts as a long-term problem.

“I really see it as more of a dip,” she said. “There are always market forces that have an impact on things.”

Centralizing social work

In the School of Social Work, officials worry that the cuts will only worsen the current shortage of social workers.

“There’s a huge void in the state,” said Tina Souders, director of a three-year masters program that will remain intact in Winston-Salem. “We need trained social workers.”

The school’s dean, Jack Richman, said 28 counties in North Carolina do not have a single masters-level social worker working in them. Current students in the distance-education programs will be able to finish their degrees, but no new students will be admitted.

“I think the future of social service delivery in general is moving downward,” he said. “I think we’re looking at potentially a lower educational standard for professional practice and potentially fewer people to provide those kinds of services.”

He added that most faculty have been spared because they are based in Chapel Hill, where they will now work full-time.

Although Richman said there are 10 other masters-level social work programs in the state, both he and Souders said the suspension of UNC’s programs will limit students’ ability to get degrees.

“That’s the tragedy of it all,” Souders said.

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