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2016 February 16 - 01:47 pm

Community Colleges Deserve Larger Role in Teacher Education

Reduced Costs, Improve Supply Among Potential Benefits

Across the country we hear a call for a more diversified teacher workforce that is highly qualified and appropriately certified. Along with these minimum expectations we also aspire to train classroom teachers who bring real-world application to students, to impact learner growth and to prepare the next generation of great leaders. To assist in meeting these needs, quality teacher preparation programs across the country are actively aligning themselves and their programs to meet the aforementioned attributes and requirements for the next generation of classroom teachers; and yet as our institutions stand primed for serving these students, we are experiencing one of the largest teacher shortages that the nation has faced in years.

The Department of Education estimates that the United States will need approximately 430,000 new teachers by 2020, fewer than five years from now. States are reporting severe shortages of teachers and desperately searching to address the vacancies. In the meantime, as the teacher demand increases, enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the country is declining significantly, indicating that the shortage may last for some time. While there may be differing opinions about the overall numbers related to the shortage, it is evident that many states such as California, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Mississippi are struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified substitute teachers, let alone highly qualified instructors of record.

When facing such an unheard of shortage and trying to address the needs without compromising quality, the National Association of Community College Teacher Education Programs (NACCTEP) has spent the last year advocating for the expansion of program models for certifying classroom teachers. Community colleges are undoubtedly known for developing quality teacher education programs, in an affordable manner, and that provide comprehensive student support. So, why not consider the option of expanding the role that community college teacher education programs play in preparing our teaching workforce?

Community college teacher education programs have long been known for providing the foundational coursework for transfer into our university systems and this model, while effective, needs to be expanded so that students are provided with more options for completing their teacher certification. Currently, approximately 20 states allow community colleges to offer degree programs within their state, but they rarely included teacher education certification. In 1991, West Virginia University at Parkersburg was accredited and became the only state community college to offer bachelor’s degrees in elementary education. While unable to offer a full-degree program in Arizona, Rio Salado College (RSC) in Tempe, Arizona, created 3+1 programs which allow students to complete 90 hours of coursework and student teaching at RSC and then transfer to a partner fouryear private institution where the final degree is obtained; thus saving students money in completing their degrees.

This kind of out-of-the box thinking needs to be considered for community colleges across the country which are seeking to enhance the diversity of the teacher education pipeline. Who better to take on this task than community colleges? By expanding program offerings, community colleges would be able to keep students in their communities where they are most needed; increase the diversity of the teacher workforce; reduce student debt incurred and work in one of the noblest professions with one of the lowest starting wages.

In 2013, the American Association of Community Colleges reported that approximately 7.4 million students attended community college for credit. According to this enrollment data, Hispanics, Blacks, American Indian and students with more than one ethnicity were more likely to enroll in community college as first-time students than white students. While teacher education programs at the community college are generally more diverse, retention of this diverse student population has become challenging with high dropout rates prior to transfer into the university systems. As a result the teacher pipeline continues to be filled with primarily white classroom teachers; a mere 18 percent of PK-12 teachers are people of color. Without a diverse teaching workforce classroom teachers will continue to struggle with being culturally responsive within their classroom communities.

By expanding program offerings within the community college system, we need to recognize that we would not be “removing” the student from their local community to complete their education. Instead, these pre-service teachers could stay local, spend local, obtain entry level positions into local school systems, and then ultimately transition as the teacher of record within their home communities at the completion of a degree.

Aside from the ability to retain a diverse teacher workforce, expanding community college offerings would assist in eliminating the overwhelming teacher education students’ debt incurred upon completion of a four-year degree from a public or private university. By providing more cost-effective models for certification, we may find an increase in students choosing to go into the teaching profession as it becomes more affordable, thus increasing the pipeline. A 2014 New America Foundation report indicated that 80 percent of the debt incurred by students finishing their graduate school programs in 2012 was not from people going into medicine, law, or business, but for less lucrative professions, such as teaching.

In addition, the annual cost of obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 2012 was reported in the range of $17,534 a year for a public institution and $35,075 a year of school for a private institution, including housing. By contrast, the national starting salary for teachers in that same time period was $36,141. If community colleges were allowed to offer four-year degrees, just imagine the return on investment that would begin to be gleaned by our firstyear educators!

While expanding program offerings would certainly be beneficial to state and students, NACCTEP also is actively following the new proposed federal regulation to determine their impact on community college candidates. The two primary regulations that could potentially impact our pre-service candidates are the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and the proposed regulations for teacher preparation. These regulations may influence students’ ability to believe that the Sky Is the Limit for their career choice.

Whereas quality clinical practices are strongly supported by all community college partners, many four-year higher education institutions, as supported by the Higher Education Taskforce (AACTE 2014), are touting the need for semesterlong or year-long clinical experiences for all program completers. While the research tends to lean towards supporting the idea of a longer opportunity to “practice” in the actual classroom, this will hinder many community college students. Many community college pre-service student teachers are labeled as nontraditional because they must continue to work in order to make ends meet and take care of family obligations. These students will not be able to complete the longer clinical experience without additional residency funding from the federal government.

Without wishing to sound alarming, the direct and indirect effects of the proposed changes to the rules regulating teacher preparation programs must be seriously considered. It is NACCTEP’s concern that four-year institutions, regardless of eligibility for Title IV funding, will actively seek to limit partnerships with community college teacher education programs in an effort to rationalize quality control. This will negatively impact the diversity of our teaching workforce.

The time to act is now! We must give every student the opportunity to dream big. We cannot offer the stars to one student and only a glimpse of it through a telescope to the others. We must consider the ramifications of the changes that are taking place, we must begin to fight for the expansion of our teacher education programs within the community college system. It is NACCTEP’s belief this will result in finally impacting all PK12 classrooms with a highlyqualified, appropriately certified, and diverse teaching workforce.

Would you like to join us in these discussion?

Do you believe that the sky should be the limit for every teacher education candidate and not just a select few? Then join us for discussions around these topics in Chicago from March 18th – 20th, 2016.

Kimberly Tobey is director of teacher education innovations and initiatives at Rio Salado College and executive director of NACCTEP.

Also from Kimberly Tobey, Executive Director, NACCTEP

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