The COVID-19 epidemic has raised concerns about teacher labor shortages. In extreme cases, states have even called on the National Guard to allow employees to fulfill other roles in the classroom or school. Although teacher shortages are a nationwide problem, they are of particular concern in Michigan, where enrollment in teacher training programs has dropped by 70 percent over the past eight years.
In a recent survey conducted by the Michigan Education Association of 2,600 educators across the state, more than 90 percent expressed concern about teacher and staff shortages, and more than 40 percent are expected to drop out of school in the next two to three years. Low pay, stressful work conditions, and an increased emphasis on quality testing have prolonged teacher laziness, but the epidemic appears to have exacerbated teacher stress and dissatisfaction with the profession.
In response to the teacher labor shortage, the Michigan Department of Education recently issued multiple policy recommendations to the state legislature. These recommendations include relaxed regulations on teachers outside the state who apply for state teacher certificates, repayment of student loans for committed college graduates committed to the teaching profession, and efforts to improve the teacher preparation pipeline, each in their own right. . But the proposals ignore an important source for future teachers: community colleges. Improving community college transfer policy provides additional opportunities to address teacher shortages.
Colleges and universities play a central role in training and certifying future educators. By law, Michigan teachers must complete a bachelor’s degree as well as a state-approved teacher preparation program. Not only does an associate’s degree qualify to teach Michiganders, but it also helps students complete their bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation programs. Graduate students also have access to the Michigan Teacher Certification (ARC) alternative route, an accelerated program designed for those who hold a minimum bachelor’s degree and are employed as teachers under an interim teaching certificate. ARC certification can currently be obtained at four Michigan postsecondary institutions, including one community college.
In fact, many students who complete undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in education start at a community college. Of the undergraduate degrees offered by all Michigan four-year colleges in 2018, about 50 percent were awarded to students who moved from a community college. In public four-year colleges, that number rose to 55 percent. In recent years, more than 20 percent of postgraduate degrees in education offered by Michigan colleges have gone to students who were at one point enrolled in a community college.
Making the transition from a two- to four-year college easier can reduce teacher shortages across the board, but especially among teachers of color, where shortages are particularly worrisome. In 2018, more than 50 percent of black bachelor’s degree holders and more than 40 percent of black bachelor’s degree holders at Michigan College started at a community college. As shown in Figures 1 and 2, these ratios are higher than for white students, which underscores the unequal role that community colleges play as a point of entry for higher education for black students.
Note: The contribution of community colleges in this case refers to any student who has completed a bachelor’s degree in education from a four-year college in Michigan and has ever been enrolled in a public community college in Michigan.
While community colleges are already making significant contributions to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Michigan, tackling structural barriers in the vertical transfer pipeline could enable greater contributions to address teacher shortages and improve teacher diversity. Among Michigan first-time public community college students, about 40 percent transferred to a four-year college in keeping with the national average, 20 percent completed an associate’s degree and 15 percent a bachelor’s degree. Many factors are responsible for the low transfer and degree-completion rates, ranging from poor funding to suggesting the wrong transfer path between two- and four-year colleges across educational programs for inadequate students. Improving on any one of these fronts can help increase degree completion and increase the number of students completing a degree in education.
Other states and institutions have begun to look at the contribution of community colleges in the provision of teacher labor and have implemented reforms accordingly. North Carolina, for example, recently created a more deliberate pathway between its two- and four-year colleges to allow students to complete associate degrees in teacher preparation before identifying transfers and relevant transfer coursework through an accent agreement. The City University of New York system has a number of conditional transfer agreements between the community and four-year colleges in educational activities. Faculty committees have also assisted in designating specific courses as gateway courses, which can be transferred to CUNY’s four-year colleges for credit. States like Florida and Washington have passed legislation to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees in teacher education to help local school districts meet staffing needs.
Developing pathways to transition to education can improve the retention, transfer and degree-completion rate of aspiring teachers enrolled in community colleges. More general improvements to pathway relocation, such as college-level math and spoken coursework in English, may contribute to the cause by increasing students’ chances of graduating and increasing access to alternative routes to teacher’s credentials. As part of the Michigan Transfer Network, the Michigan Community College Association, the Michigan Association of State Universities and Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities are collaborating to improve the transfer experience through multidisciplinary collaborations and undergraduate pathways and better access to information transfer for students. . Removing barriers to transfer between two- to four-year colleges may not address all of the underlying factors contributing to teacher labor shortages, but it is a promising strategy to ensure that more quality teachers are prepared for the classroom.