During its meeting Wednesday in Gainesville, the State Board of Education (SBE) unanimously approved Polk State College’s plan to launch two new bachelors’ degrees in education.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome of today’s meeting,” said Polk State President Eileen Holden, who represented the College at the SBE meeting.
“There are still more steps to complete before we will be able to offer these degree programs to our students, but the State Board of Education’s approval is a huge step forward. We look forward to having homegrown elementary education and early childhood education teachers teaching the students of Polk County.”
The SBE approved Polk State’s proposals to launch Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a STEM Focus and Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education programs.
The Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education will prepare students for state certification. Moreover, the STEM Focus of the program means students will complete coursework designed to prepare them to teach STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and integrate the subjects in their instruction.
Before submitting its proposal, the College communicated with Polk County Public Schools and Lake Wales Charter Schools, Inc., the two largest employers of elementary education teachers. This communication revealed a current need for nearly 200 K-6 teachers, much higher than the need projected by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) .
In her remarks to the SBE, Holden added that teachers who graduate from the program will be ready “to ignite and excite” students who may go on to study at the STEM-focused Florida Polytechnic University in Lakeland.
The Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education, meanwhile, will prepare students to earn required state certifications to teach children between age 3 and the third grade.
Like the BS in Elementary Education, the BS in Early Childhood Education will address local workforce needs. The College’s surveys of Polk County employers found that job openings for highly trained early childhood teachers in Polk County also exceed FDEO projections. The need for the degree is exacerbated by federal requirements that at least 50 percent of Head Start teachers have a baccalaureate or advanced degree in early childhood education.
Locally, the departure of the University of South Florida from Polk County has created a gap in early childhood education teacher programs. Polk State’s degree will fill that gap while also assuring affordability. The cost of both proposed bachelors’ degrees will be approximately $14,000, thousands less than other programs in Central Florida.
Next, the College will seek Florida Department of Education approval. The College hopes to launch the degrees in January.