By Marisa Losciale
SUNY New Paltz is home to one of the oldest teaching schools in the Hudson Valley, but that doesn’t make it impervious to economic change.
In 1885, The State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz established itself as one of the few teaching schools in the Hudson Valley and soon became home to one of the most reputable education departments in New York State. In the century that followed, the college would churn out tens of thousands of certified teachers, many of them staying in the Hudson Valley to teach the next generation of young people. That being said, the steady decline in education majors since 2008 comes as a surprise to the school, since overall enrollment at the university has continued to increase.
Prior to the 2008 recession, the majority of students attending the university were enrolled in the liberal arts and sciences, and education programs. Due to economic trends and their repercussions, students are focusing on more in-demand jobs found in the science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) and business fields.
Study What You Want or Graduate Employed
Most of the jobs that were lost in the recession still haven’t returned, forcing students to focus on studies with in-demand jobs. According to the university’s Institutional Research Committee, SUNY New Paltz’s education department has enrolled approximately 320 less students over the course of the last seven years.
SUNY New Paltz Undergraduate Departments in order of Popularity (Fall 2014)
- Language arts and sciences
- Science and Engineering
- Fine and performing arts
According to Pattern For Progress, these layoffs are a direct result of declining birth rates, the recession and families leaving the Hudson Valley to live in areas that are more affordable or offer more jobs. The mass teacher layoffs could be seen all across the country, including in our local Ulster, Dutchess and Orange County school districts.
“From 2000 to 2009, public school enrollment declined or remained statistically flat in every county except Westchester…Columbia County lost 20 percent of its student population, while Greene, Sullivan and Ulster each lost roughly 10 percent of their school-age children.”
In a speech made by President Obama in June of 2012, he addressed the nationwide teacher layoffs and the shrinking education field, which occurred as a repercussion of the 2008 recession.
“So it should concern everyone that right now—all across America—tens of thousands of teachers are getting laid off…Think about what that means for our country. When there are fewer teachers in our schools, class sizes start climbing up. Out students start falling behind. And our economy takes a hit.” – President Barack Obama
But We’re Always Going to Need Teachers, Right?
In contrast, enrollment for the S.T.E.M. and business fields has increased by approximately 700 students since 2007. But according to the data, the bad economy hasn’t deterred all prospective teachers from earning a degree in education at SUNY New Paltz.
“Even with the focus on science and engineering, and all the S.T.EM. grants the university has received from Cuomo, I still see SUNY New Paltz as being home to a wonderful teaching and education program. That’s why I came here,” says SUNY New Paltz sophomore Steven Robinson.
Robinson recently declared a degree in secondary education with a concentration in social studies, because he believes earning a teaching degree at SUNY New Paltz offers him a variety of employment opportunities. He was ecstatic to hear the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) awarded the university’s School of Education for its excellence.
“Most of the teachers I had in high school are alumni of SUNY New Paltz, so I’ve always believed it to be a great investment and a well-known teaching school,” he says. Because of this, he says finding a student teaching position and climbing up the ladder to being a successful teacher, has been made easier.
But Robinson, like many others, isn’t surprised that more and more students are focusing on the S.T.E.M. and business fields, “That’s where the money is,” he says. “Those fields entertain and finance projects like the Silicone Valley, those fields are in-demand because they’re making money.”
- Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science
- Computer Science
- Civil Engineering
- Information Systems Management
- Information Systems
- Information Science
- Construction Services
When it comes to finding a job, Robinson says all he can do is hope the hard work he puts in now, pays off.
“Isn’t everyone antsy about finding a job after graduation? It’s a scary and competitive process no matter what subject you study,” Robinson said. “You just have to be prepared for whatever you want to do.”