KU to shut down Center for STEM Learning and UKanTeach program, citing budget cuts

photo by: Journal-World photo illustration

The University of Kansas’ Center for STEM Learning and UKanTeach program will be shutting down at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.

The University of Kansas’ Center for STEM Learning and UKanTeach program will be shutting down at the end of the academic year, program director Steven Case announced Friday — a move being criticized by some as detrimental to education.

The center and program will close because of budget cuts affecting the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Case, who has been working at KU for 22 years, found out on Sept. 11 that the program would be cut and that he would lose his job.

“I was pretty stunned and shocked,” he said. “We’ve been a very successful program for the past 12 years, and we have not been a part of creating this budget deficit.”

The UKanTeach program, a collaboration between the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Education, allows students to complete an approved STEM bachelor’s degree (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) alongside receiving a teaching license in mathematics, biology, chemistry, earth and space science or physics. Students can thus major in their preferred discipline and receive a teaching license instead of having to acquire an undergraduate degree in education.

The program, founded in 2007, has graduated 233 students. Case said about 84% of those students went on to teach in secondary education. The program currently has 112 students.

In an email to current students in the UKanTeach program, John Colombo, interim dean of liberal arts, and Rick Ginsberg, dean of education, wrote that the School of Education has been asked to take back ownership of the preparation of math and science teachers.

“Sadly, budget constraints force difficult decisions, and that is the primary consideration leading to this decision at KU,” they wrote. “UKanTeach has served students and the education community well since its inception in 2007. The College and the School of Education are collaborating to develop a new approach that will maintain what UKanTeach has historically provided.”

In an interview with the Journal-World, Ginsberg called the program “terrific” but expensive and said they planned to ask current students in the UKanTeach program for input as they developed a new model that they hoped would be ready by the end of the semester. They are also exploring the possibility of joint majors with departments in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

He also said in a different email that the university “will be finishing out all the students currently in UKanTeach so they can obtain their license” and that they “intend to release specifics about the new program as soon as we have it ready for review and comment.

“KU is NOT getting out of the business of preparing science and mathematics teachers,” he emphasized.

Graduates of the UKanTeach program have issued a letter to Gov. Laura Kelly and the Kansas Board of Regents asking that they encourage the university to reconsider its decision:

“We do not discount the difficult process of determining programs that should continue to receive funding, but by further placing a burden on the PreK-12 system, the children of Kansas will greatly suffer.”

The letter cites a presentation from the Kansas State Department of Education’s Teacher Vacancy and Supply Committee, noting that there were 42 unfilled science vacancies and 35 unfilled math vacancies in Kansas in the fall of 2018. Of the 612 vacancies across all subjects, the top two reasons for vacancies were “no applicant” or “not fully qualified based on endorsement area.”

“There is already a shortage of quality STEM educators in the state and removing a program that allows people curious about teaching to try it out without risk will further exacerbate the issue,” program graduate Kelly Kluthe wrote in an email to the Lawrence Journal-World. “A number of my colleagues would not have fallen in love with teaching without UKanTeach.”

Kluthe received a bachelor’s degree in biology from KU and went on to teach at Wyandotte High School. In 2016, she won the Kansas Outstanding Biology Teacher Award.

At the end of the letter are testimonials from Kluthe and 11 other UKanTeach program graduates, and during a question-and-answer session at interim Provost Carl Lejuez’s community forum Monday, seven people addressed Lejuez and the crowd in support of the program — to applause.

Nationwide, efforts to expand STEM education — especially to women and underrepresented groups — has been a priority. In December of 2018, the National Science & Technology Council released a report from the Committee of STEM Education that outlined a five-year plan “based on a Vision for a future where all Americans will have lifelong access to high-quality STEM education and the United States will be the global leader in STEM literacy, innovation, and employment.”

In their letter, past UKanTeach program participants wondered how the loss of the program would affect the university in the long run:

“As the number of vacancies continues to rise throughout the state and more unqualified individuals lead our classrooms, we cannot help but wonder: how will the individuals you seek to recruit to attend the University of Kansas be affected?”

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