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How the economy affects education in Central Florida

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Florida, along with many states across the country, is facing a teacher shortage. (photo: Marco Verch Professional Photographer/flickr)

Florida, like a number of other states,  is facing a pretty bad teacher and school staff shortage. According to the Florida Education Association, there are nearly 4,500 teacher vacancies in school districts across the state.

Lawrence Drake is interim president and dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Bethune Cookman University. WMFE’s Talia Blake spoke with Drake about how the current economy is affecting education.

Lawrence Drake is the interim president and Dean of the College of Business and Entrepreneurship at Bethune Cookman University. (photo via: Lawrence Drake)

Education Degrees

Bethune Cookman University’s interim president Lawrence Drake says they’ve seen a steady decline in the number of students pursuing a teaching degree.

“We think that there is been a continual flow of people not as interested as before,” he said. “And when I say before, I mean, in the 1980s, 90s, and maybe even early 2000s. I think we’ve embarked upon an era where many people that might have gone into the teaching profession before, don’t see that as relevant as they might have otherwise.”

Cost of Education

As inflation hits the pockets of many, Drake is concerned about the cost of education. BCU is a private historically black college, and Drake said they’re looking to lower the cost for their students. “And the reason is actually several fold,” he said.

Drake said 71% of BCU students are low income students or come from low income families. “We know that they have to borrow in order to go to college. That number really is somewhere around 80% versus non HBCUs, which is closer to about 58%,” he explained.

According to BCU’s website, tuition for the 2022-2023 school year costs $13,844.

“So it’s one thing to go into debt to college, and that certainly says we got to lower the cost,” he said. “But it’s a whole other thing, when you start to do the real economic impact on a student once they graduate, particularly if they’ve had a compounded interest rate lopped on top of that, which  they borrowed.”

Cost of Teacher Turnover

Florida has faced a teacher shortage for a while, amplified by the pandemic. When teachers leave a job, there is a cost to the school to replace them. But, Drake said the real costs comes before a teacher leaves that classroom.

“So if a teacher gets frustrated in midstream and just gives up on that classroom, what happens to the student? And there’s a cost that you can’t even put a number on,” he said. “Because there are times when teachers are so frustrated by a system that doesn’t seem to appreciate them, it’s hard for them to stay motivated.”

If Florida does not put a bigger investment into the teaching profession and building strong educators, Drake thinks our economy could fall behind other parts of the world.

“Of the 24 developed countries as measured by OECD. We are 22nd or 23rd in math, science and reading composite today. So we’re already behind, “he explained. “So it isn’t as if we will fall behind further, it’s that we’re already lower than we should be based on the money we spend per student in this country.”

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Talia Blake

About Talia Blake

Morning Edition Host & Reporter

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she ... Read Full Bio »