How Teacher Prep Programs Are Stepping Up Efforts to Recruit Students

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education launched an unusual marketing blitz. It includes a TV ad that encourages people to go into teaching, especially to promote more diversity in the teaching profession.

“Experience the unique joy of helping students thrive,” the public service announcement says as it depicts a range of people working with students. “Teaching is a journey that shapes lives. Are you ready?”

The national campaign comes at a time of concern about teacher shortages in many schools and districts. And it’s not just a problem today — there’s worry that the pipeline of new teachers being trained might be shrinking as well.

That’s because since 2010 the number of students enrolled in teacher prep programs at colleges has fallen by more than a third, from about 900,000 students in 2010-11 to only 600,000 in the 2018-19 academic year, according to the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. And the group found that in the fall of 2020-21, 20 percent of undergraduate teacher-education programs had seen enrollment drops of 11 percent or more because of the pandemic.

So how are teacher prep programs responding? Can more people — and more people from a variety of backgrounds — be convinced to join the teaching profession in this particularly trying time? We tackle those questions on this week’s EdSurge Podcast.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player on this page. Or read a partial transcript, edited for clarity, below.

For a long portion of their history, education schools didn’t have to think much about recruitment.

“We used to have lots of students coming into our program and we didn’t worry too much about that. We just said, ‘Here we are, come, we’re ready for you,’” says Stan Harward, the associate dean of Utah Valley University’s College of Education.

In the last two or three years, though, this education college has started working with high schools in the area to introduce students to its program and sell them on the profession. The program brings high school students to the campus for half a day, for a tour of the education school and to meet with officials.

“They visit our creative learning studio and work with robots, so we show what we do and what future teachers learn at our school,” Harward says, adding that there are even “prizes and drawings” for the prospective students.

Meanwhile, he adds, high schools throughout the state have been adding classes for aspiring teachers, in partnership with the Utah State Board of Education, called Teaching as a Profession. One of those classes is offered as a concurrent enrollment course with Utah Valley, so students can start earning college credit toward a teaching degree even in high school. “We’re trying to build a pathway for them to take these classes and connect with them early, and maybe even enroll them in our program early,” Harward adds.

And that’s just one piece of what’s happening nationwide. For instance, a program called Educators Rising has chapters in high schools for students who might be interested in teaching that also provides info and arranges tours of education schools, says Jacqueline King, a consultant for research, policy and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

Such outreach might be especially important to draw teachers from groups that are underrepresented in teaching. “As we know, white women dominate K-12 teaching, particularly elementary,” says Maureen Kelleher, editorial director at Georgetown University’s FutureEd. She says that research done by the Center for Black Educator Development found that the first time that white girls hear the message that they should be a teacher comes as early as third grade. “But Black men,” she says, “maybe no one ever told them that before college or after college, so the idea isn’t even there when they’re thinking ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’”

It turns out the dip in interest in teacher prep programs started even before the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, many experts say a major cause was the 2008 financial crisis.

“It had a lot to do with the changes in people’s finances, I think,” says King. “Students were unwilling to consider taking on the amount of debt that they might have to take on to do a bachelor’s to go into a field where compensation was so much less than other fields.”

Yet the increased outreach efforts by education schools may be starting to pay off.

Nationally, says King, enrollment at many schools has stabilized coming out of the pandemic, and in some cases even grown a bit. “So it seems like we’ve hit a floor in terms of the interest,” she says. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that that’s the case.”

And at Utah Valley University, Harward says his school has seen a slight dip in its enrollment, which he described as “probably a couple percent,” but that officials haven’t seen the large drops that some other education schools have seen.

“We’ve got a lot of students now taking intro to education, so we’re up in those classes. So we’re kind of hoping to see a bit of an upturn here,” he says. “But we’re not taking anything for granted.”

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