Enrollment In Teacher Preparation Programs Down A Third In This Decade: Six Troubling Trends

Enrollment in teacher preparation programs dropped by one third between 2010 and 2018, and several states saw precipitous declines of more than 50%. Those are two of the main findings from a study released this week by the Center for American Progress, the progressive, D.C.-based think-tank.

No one should be surprised about the fact that fewer students are studying to be teachers—that decline has been well-documented for years—but the dramatic size of the decrease and several underlying shifts that accompany it are jolting indictors of just how far a teaching career has fallen as a preferred profession.

Here are six key findings from the report, which analyzed data from all teacher preparation programs receiving federal funding. (Note: The data are referred to by the year reported, which is one year after the academic year in which they were collected.)

Enrollment declines were widespread. Nationally, one-third fewer students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in 2018 than in 2010; only five states—Utah, Arizona, Washington, Texas and Nevada experienced increases in teacher prep enrollments. Nine states saw declines of more than 50%. Oklahoma had the dubious distinction of leading this category, with an 80% enrollment drop; it was followed by Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois, Idaho, Indiana, New Mexico, and Rhode Island.

The number of completers of teacher preparation programs also fell. Between 2010 and 2018, 28% fewer students completed teacher preparation programs. Here is what that means in terms of available new teachers. From 2003 through 2013, more than 200,000 students graduated from teacher preparation programs each year; in 2018, however, fewer than 160,000 students completed such programs.

Traditional programs, based at accredited institutions of higher education (IHE), suffered the biggest declines. The majority of teacher prep programs are housed in colleges of education at public and nonprofit colleges and universities, where students complete a BA or MA curriculum satisfying certification requirements

Another pathway is alternative certification programs offered at IHEs or increasingly by for-profit organizations. These programs typically cater to individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree of some type, allowing them to meet state teaching requirements in a shorter time frame, through a trimmed-down schedule of courses and practice teaching.

Although there were large variations between states, overall enrollment in traditional IHE-based teacher preparation programs decreased by 43% from 2010 to 2018 and alternative programs in IHEs dropped 19%. Conversely, enrollment in non-IHE alternative certification programs increased by 42% in this same time period. The increasing enrollment in alternative certification programs was large enough to account for a slight increase in national enrollment between 2016 and 2018.

Enrollment declines varied by race and ethnicity. Enrollment declined by more than half for students who identified as Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders and American Indian or Alaska Native. These decreases were followed by Whites (45%), Asians (33%), Hispanic or Latinx (27%) and African Americans (27%).

Most states had larger enrollment declines for men. Nationally, enrollment by women dropped by 38% across the decade, compared to a 44% decrease for men. Declines were steeper for men in most states. Using the Oklahoma example again as an illustration, male enrollment plummeted by 91%, while female enrollment dropped 79%.

Program completions also varied by fields of concentration. Completions were down by 29% in elementary education. Content areas with persistent teacher shortages—science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)—decreased by 27%. Special education experienced a decline in completers of 14%. The one exception to this pattern was for those who earned credentials for teaching English-language learners or bilingual education, where there was a 30% increase.

Enrollment can be a "proxy for interest in the teaching profession," said Lisette Partelow, the author of the report, adding that some of these declines, are "quite worrying.” Indeed, the trends are troubling, particularly as they are accompanied by recent increases in the number of teacher strikes, the inadequacy of teacher salaries in most states, and the difficult—often unsafe—working conditions with which teachers must contend.

And add one more change that college leaders should find especially concerning - the shift away from traditional institution-based education for prospective teachers to alternative certification programs run on the quick and for a profit.

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I am president emeritus of Missouri State University. After earning my B.A. from Wheaton College (Illinois), I was awarded a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Unive...