Teaching Profession

Enrollment in Teacher-Preparation Programs Is Declining Fast. Here’s What the Data Show

By Madeline Will — December 03, 2019 5 min read
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Across the country, enrollment in teacher-preparation programs has dropped by a third from 2010 to 2018, a new report finds.

The report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, analyzed federal data to find that nearly every state in the nation has experienced enrollment declines, with some states seeing steep declines of more than 50 percent. And the number of black and Hispanic teacher-candidates enrolled in teacher preparation dropped by a quarter over that eight-year time period.

Enrollment numbers can be a “proxy for interest in the teaching profession,” said Lisette Partelow, the senior director of K-12 strategic initiatives at CAP and the author of the report. Some of these declines, she added, are “quite worrying.”

A national poll conducted earlier this year found that 55 percent of teachers wouldn’t want their children to follow in their footsteps, and half say they’re so unhappy with their jobs that they have seriously considered leaving the profession.

See also: Enrollment Is Down at Teacher Colleges. So They’re Trying to Change

The CAP report also found that there was a 28 percent decline in students completing teacher-preparation programs during this eight-year time period.

One bright spot: The number of students who completed programs that prepared them to teach bilingual education and English-as-a-second language increased by nearly 30 percent from 2012 to 2018. But most other subject areas saw declines in completers that varied in severity.

For example, special education programs saw a 14 percent decline, programs that prepared candidates to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics saw a 22 percent decline, and elementary education programs saw a 29 percent decline. (The latter might not be a bad thing: A 2013 analysis from Education Week found that some states were producing far more elementary teachers than there were jobs available.)

Only five states saw a growth in students enrolling in teacher preparation programs from 2010 to 2018: Utah, Arizona, Washington, Texas, and Nevada.

Nine states—Oklahoma, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, and Rhode Island—have seen enrollment decline by 50 percent or more from 2010 to 2018. In the most severe example, Oklahoma’s teacher-preparation programs saw an 80 percent drop.

The Sooner State has struggled to recruit and retain teachers. Neighboring states like Texas have lured teachers over the border with significantly higher salaries. More than 2,000 emergency certified teachers were hired in Oklahoma this year—meaning they have a bachelor’s degree, but no background or course work in the content area they’re teaching.

Teachers there have complained about low wages and crumbling classroom conditions. Last year, teachers across the state staged a nine-day walkout and won their first pay raise in a decade.

“This broader context of the teaching profession is really affecting students’ interest in the teaching profession,” Partelow said.

Enrollment Declines By Race, Ethnicity

Nationally, the largest declines in enrollment was among teacher-candidates who identified as Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders and American Indian or Alaska Native. The report notes that although these declines represent a relatively small absolute number, they are still concerning given the need for Native American and Native Hawaiian students to have culturally relevant pedagogy.

The decline in enrollment was less pronounced for black or Hispanic teacher candidates than it was for white teacher-candidates, who experienced a 45 percent decline. Even so, Partelow said the decreases for teacher-candidates of color were troubling, since there is already a shortage. Nationally, 80 percent of teachers are white, and research has found that all students, but especially students of color, can benefit from having a teacher of color.

Nationally, there was a 38 percent decline for female teacher-candidates, and a 44 percent decline for men. That’s concerning, the report notes, because the teaching profession is already 77 percent female.

Oklahoma had the steepest enrollment declines for both groups—a 91 percent decrease for men, and a 79 percent decrease for women.

Alternative Programs

There are also differences in enrollment trends among different types of programs, the CAP analysis finds. Traditional teacher-preparation programs, which prepare the bulk of the nation’s teachers, experienced the largest decline of 43 percent. Alternative programs that are run by a postsecondary institution saw a 19 percent decline in enrollment.

Alternative certification programs that are not run by a college or university, however, saw a 42 percent increase in enrollment. Texas enrolls more candidates in these programs than any other state, driving the growth across the country. The most popular alternative certification program is called Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, which enrolls 48,218 students—more than any teacher-preparation program of any type in the country.

The program, which has received criticism from other colleges of education and teachers’ unions, is for aspiring teachers who already have a bachelor’s degree. They take self-paced, online coursework that consists of videos and PowerPoint slides, and complete 480 hours of a teaching internship. Students can enter a classroom and start teaching on their own without any sort of formal observation, coursework, or supervised experience, the report says.

It’s worth noting that the increase in completers data for Texas Teachers of Tomorrow is much smaller than the enrollment increase. In 2012, just about 2,700 students completed the program, compared with 6,000 in 2018. While the number of completers more than doubled, the number of students who enrolled increased fivefold, the report notes.

Partelow said she hopes this breakdown of the data can allow policymakers to come up with targeted policy solutions in order to stem further enrollment declines.

“There’s a little bit of talk these days that we’re potentially entering an economic slowdown,” she said. “We know that enrollment in teacher preparation tends to decline when there’s a recession. ... It’s possible we’re poised for even more of a significant drop if that same trend holds true.”

After all, Partelow added, “enrollment in teacher prep is definitely not happening in a vacuum. It’s happening in the context of a lot of turmoil and dissatisfaction in the teaching profession.”

Image via Getty; charts via the Center for American Progress

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.