DGLimages / Shutterstock
It’s a tough time to be a teacher. They’re burned out, they’re demoralized, they’re facing hostility from parents, they’re not paid very well, and they’re either dreading or dreaming of a return to remote learning-a decision that most of them don’t have the power to control.
By Rebecca Koenig
Meanwhile, it’s a tough time to be a college student, too. Student loans are scary. Campus life isn’t back to normal. Student enrollment is down-and it keeps falling.
These circumstances are squeezing the university programs that train future teachers. The challenge of attracting students into and graduating them from education departments at colleges predates the pandemic, experts say, and yet the pressures of the past two years have worsened the situation at some institutions.
After all, a glimpse into the lives of educators working in schools right now reveals problem after problem with few solutions in sight-not exactly reassuring for someone considering a career in teaching.
Although the majority of educator-preparation programs saw no or relatively small enrollment changes in fall of 2020 and fall of 2021, 20 percent of institutions saw a decline in new undergrad enrollment that exceeded 10 percent, according to survey data from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. And in fall 2021, 13 percent of responding institutions reported significant declines in new graduate student enrollment.
“Our sense from our members is that this has exacerbated the trend we had already been seeing of declining student interest in going into teaching,” says Jacqueline E. King, consultant for research, policy and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
Some institutions are even cutting teacher degree programs, such as Oklahoma City University, which has suspended its elementary education and early childhood education tracks.
“We just don’t have the student population to support our classes,” says Heather Sparks, director of teacher education at Oklahoma City University. “It got to the point where it was unsustainable. When class sizes started dropping below 10, it wasn’t something the university could support.”
Falling enrollment in teacher-prep programs seems like bad news for schools that already were struggling to hire and keep enough teachers. It’s a problem with a long history, and some experts say that even if colleges can graduate more students with teaching degrees, that alone won’t reverse the trend without broader reforms.
“That doesn’t solve the retention piece,” says Paul Gediman, executive director for marketing and advancement at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, explaining that many new teachers leave the profession within three years. “Why are they leaving? The easy answers are: We don’t pay teachers. We don’t value education.”
But leaders of college education programs are fighting fatalism by trying new strategies for recruiting and training America’s next batch of teachers. Several efforts focus on an acute pain point: the mismatch between the high cost to earn a degree in teaching and the low pay the profession offers. Others are thinking even bigger, by advocating for making education jobs more sustainable for workers.
Efforts that seem to be working have had a common ingredient: close ties between colleges and local K-12 school districts.
“The strength of the collaboration between K-12 districts and higher education has been the saving grace-or not,” for colleges that lacked good relationships, says Cassandra Herring, president and CEO of Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity. “Educator preparation programs and strong K-12 partners have really been innovative in thinking, ‘What are the experiences candidates can have in schools in this moment?’”
Through these efforts, some teacher-prep degree programs have even countered trends by increasing their enrollments. Here’s how colleges are adapting to find payday loans Washington and train the teachers of tomorrow.