Unintended consequences

Lynda Wiest, Ph.D., is a professor of Mathematics Education and Educational Equity at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Many Nevadans have suffered in this economic downturn, and I accept that the University of Nevada, Reno College of Education (COE), where I am a 14-year professor, must share in these difficult times. However, I believe one potential cut—a proposal that all COE programs beyond master’s degrees be eliminated—is particularly unsettling.

The COE currently enrolls the second largest number of doctoral students of UNR’s nine colleges and schools. These students are the most racially and ethnically diverse of the COE degree programs. This diversity fits the university’s mission to reflect the make-up of Nevada’s citizens. It enriches the college experience for all students by expanding awareness of different types of people and varied viewpoints.

Cutting COE doctoral programs also has gender implications. Women constitute 47 percent of UNR doctoral students. However, they make up 65 percent of COE doctoral students. Cutting the highest, most prestigious degree in a field that women tend to choose for advancing themselves and their careers shows little respect for female-dominated occupations.

Northern Nevada schools benefit from COE doctoral programs. Many Nevada teachers, principals and school counselors pursue these degrees and return to our school system to apply their expertise. Faculty and doctoral students study teaching and learning in Northern Nevada schools. These studies can help improve classroom instruction by providing information on how children learn and on effective teaching practices. Without this research, we would have to rely on studies conducted in school contexts that may be unlike our own and have limited usefulness for education in Nevada. An understanding of how to improve achievement in our own schools can only be beneficial as we seek to improve the low performance ranking of Nevada schools compared with other states in the nation.

Doctoral students interact with other COE students in important ways. They help emphasize that studying the field of education intensely combines with practical expertise to create powerful dynamics between research and school practice. Doctoral students also model possibilities for advanced study, which may inspire undergraduate and master’s students to follow the same path. This can continue to return greater expertise in education to Nevada schools.

The high local, state, national and international reputation of the UNR College of Education is threatened by this single proposal. The proposed action reflects a lack of understanding that the field of education is a profession that demands research-based practice and that educators are both scholars and practitioners. Retaining COE doctoral programs would have little negative financial impact on the university. However, the lasting effects of cutting UNR doctoral degrees in the field of education would be devastating to all levels of education in the state of Nevada.