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Nation's Largest Schools of Education See Hints of Enrollment 'Turnaround'

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Preliminary admissions data from some of the nation's largest schools of education indicate that their teacher-training enrollments, for the first time since they began plummeting in the early 1970's, may hold steady or even rise next fall.

Henry J. Hermanowicz, dean of Pennsylvania State University's College of Education, said the school has received a greater number of undergraduate education applications than ever before; it has offered admission to 539 students, 28 percent more than last year's 420.

The increased interest in the undergraduate education program, which last year raised its admission requirements, is "reflective" of changing attitudes toward education in Pennsylvania and around the country, Mr. Hermanowicz said.

"Education is becoming more attractive," he added. "It is now being realized, due to the series of national reports, just how important education is to our nation's future."

'Bottoming Out'

Officials of the schools of education at Michigan State University, the University of Florida, The Ohio State University, and Teachers College, Columbia University (a graduate program), also say that their enrollments, which have declined annually by about 5 to 7 percent since 1971, are "bottoming out" and should hold stable or even begin to swell this year.

The indications of renewed interest in teacher-training programs follow several years of predictions by educators, demographers, and officials in a number of states that widespread teacher shortages are likely unless more new teachers are trained. Statisticians at the National Center for Education Statistics have projected, for example, that the school population will begin to grow again in 1985 and will rise by about 2 percent, or 400,000 children, annually for about 15 years.

But the number of new graduates produced annually by education schools has been declining steadily for nearly 15 years, from 314,000 in 1970 to under 120,000 last year, according to federal statistics.

In addition to the school-reform movement, which education-school officials say has encouraged students to believe that school climates are improving and that the rewards of teaching may also improve in years to come, the officials attribute the slightly brighter enrollment picture to:

The improving job market for teachers caused by changing demographics and shortages of qualified instructors in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and other fields.

Efforts by the schools of education to improve the image and substance of their teacher-training programs.

More aggressive recruiting techniques by the education schools.

Other Directions Advised

According to Donald H. Nickerson, assistant dean of the college of education at Michigan State University, students have always had a "strong latent interest in education." But since the early 1970's, he said, they have been going into other fields because parents and counselors advised them that there would be no teaching jobs.

"That may be beginning to change," he said. "The job picture is improving and the school-reform movement is generating a renewed interest in education in local communities and states, which is helping change the attitudes of students toward teaching as a profession."

Although Michigan State did not experience an increase in education enrollments last year, and does not expect any in the coming fall, the annual enrollment declines of 5- to 7-percent should halt for the first time in many years, Mr. Nickerson said. In this year's winter term, a total of 2,447 students were majoring in elementary and secondary education at Michigan State, the dean said. That figure has been declining steadily since the winter term of 1972-73, when the university enrolled 4,143 elementary and 3,060 secondary majors, he said.

Ohio State University officials also expect their enrollments to hold steady this year, "which may be the turnaround year," according to a spokesman for the dean's office.

Undergraduate education enroll-ments at all the university's campuses are projected to total 1,850 students next fall, according to Assistant Dean R. Mikell O'Donnell. This past winter, the schools enrolled 1,849 students, she said.

Encouraged by Recruiting

"One of the most encouraging signs" of a turnaround, according to Mr. Nickerson, is that school systems that had not recruited on campus for a number of years are starting to return.

"I'd like to think that [the renewed interest in education schools] is because of reforms in schools and in our teacher-education program. But the turnaround here and around the nation is probably more closely related to the dissemination of information about the job market," said Marvin R. McMillin, assistant dean at the College of Education at the University of Florida, where undergraduate enrollments are expected to hold steady at about 700 students for the second year after steady 5-percent declines since 1971-72, when undergraduate enrollments peaked at about 1,500 students.

"People are finding teaching jobs now, particularly in the mathematics and science fields," Mr. McMillin said. "The situation in those areas is the best we've seen in over a decade. Elementary education, with enrollments beginning to come back again, is up as well. A lot of young people feel there will be job opportunities there."

Student Awareness Lags

According to David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (aacte), there is generally "a four-year lag" before students are fully aware of and responsive to an upswing in market conditions.

"Young people making career decisions are now beginning to see that there are openings in teaching, that some of the widely publicized constraints are not going to be there, and that conditions within schools are going to change," he said.

Mr. Imig said that data that he has seen on education-school enrollments nationwide indicate "modest increases in elementary programs, significant increases in science and mathematics programs, and very little change for programs training teachers for secondary schools."

aacte is compiling information on enrollments in education for an annual report that will be released next month, according to Vivian S. Cooper, assistant director of communications for the teacher-education group.

Stable Enrollment Seen

At Teachers College, Columbia University, which is a graduate school only, the enrollment picture seems to be stable for the first time since the beginning of the era of enrollment declines, according to Associate Dean Sloan R. Wayland.

He said officials of the graduate program "are projecting a stable en-rollment for the fall semester of about 4,000 students," although enrollment at the college has declined by about 5 percent a year for some time. "We believe there may be some improvement in different parts of the program," he said, adding that lagging federal support and other factors have depressed enrollments in such areas as nursing education, bilingual education, and special education.

College officials have attempted to develop new programs and alternative scheduling and financing arrangements to make teacher training more attractive to prospective students, Mr. Wayland said.

In general, he said, the improved economy "has given prospective students a little more leeway to make decisions about how to use their resources."

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