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Society & Culture

Addressing the Nationwide Need for Teachers: Q&A with School of Education Dean Nancy Butler Songer

October 22, 2014

empty classroom

In the world of education, there is unbalance.

Enrollment in education-degree programs is declining, in some states rapidly, while the need for teachers is steadily increasing across the country. This recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which examines the nationwide pattern in more detail, was the inspiration behind a DrexelNow Q&A with School of Education Dean Nancy Butler Songer who says there has never been a better time to pursue an education degree, especially at Drexel.

School of Education Dean Nancy Butler SongerSome media outlets are tracking a sharp nationwide decline in enrollment in education-degree programs, including undergraduate, master’s and doctoral degree programs. Are you noticing the same trend?

Over the past eight years, enrollment in teacher preparation programs in the United States has fallen by an average of about 10 percent. These drops are larger in some locations, such as California, and they are attributed to several factors including the budget crisis of 2008, increased publicity about the challenge of teaching, and teacher layoffs.

What do the numbers look like for Drexel’s School of Education?

At Drexel, enrollment in the School of Education’s traditional undergraduate and graduate teacher education programs has dipped only slightly, and our enrollment in EdD doctoral degrees has increased. Here are a few numbers.

  • The school’s full-time bachelor degree education program enrollment dropped 1 percent from 2011 to 2014.
  • The school’s graduate degree programs (masters and post-bachelor’s teaching certificate) decreased between 6 and 9 percent annually from 2011 through 2014.
  • However, the School of Education’s doctoral programs enrollment has increased by 153 percent since 2011 due to growth in our hybrid and online offerings for that program.

The overall declines in teacher certification enrollments nationwide are particularly worrisome in light of statistics that consistently document increasing needs for teachers across the United States. A recent National Center for Education Statistics report states, "Public elementary enrollment is projected to continue increasing annually, for an increase of 7 percent between 2012 and 2021…Public secondary enrollment is projected to increase about 5 percent between 2012 and 2021. Total public elementary and secondary enrollment is projected to set new records every year from 2012 to 2021."

Needs are particularly high for teachers with training in Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Technology (STEM), special education and urban schools. Interestingly, these are all areas we prioritize in the School of Education at Drexel.

There is a student at a crossroads, who is hesitant about pursuing an education degree. What do you say to him/ her?

As the national statistics suggest, I believe there has never been a better time to pursue a degree in education, particularly at Drexel. And, we prioritize financial support for education students, such as our program to provide a discount to all matriculated graduate students pursuing a teacher certification program.

Now is also a good time to pursue an education degree as we are launching new programs that will help our students to be particularly well positioned for a career as an education leader in tomorrow’s world. For example, we are moving forward in obtaining Pennsylvania Department of Education state approval to offer the Integrative Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Education endorsement and the Online Instruction Program endorsement for our students. We are developing a new undergraduate major called Learning, Culture and Technology that would help undergraduates to build from foundational projects and courses focused on learning in many different settings toward the design of environments and technologies for learners of many ages, needs and specialty areas. 

Teacher salaries remain lower than other professions. How is the School of Education working with this issue?

Teacher salaries are only one piece of a very complicated problem that includes a need to find better ways to provide teachers and schools with a full set of materials, resources and support structures so that they can do their job well. While School of Education individuals are in the early stages of talks to address this larger set of problems, we are also working to provide near-term financial assistance, such as scholarships and tuition discounts, wherever possible.

Locally, teacher salaries are a bit better than the national average. According to salary.com, existing teacher salaries in Philadelphia and eastern Pennsylvania are higher than the national average and jobs are currently available for both STEM and special education teachers.

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