Last week, Eduventures was invited to speak at the 2015 Annual Fall Meeting of the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions (CADREI). During our conversations with deans about the future of teacher preparation, the enrollment crisis for schools of education took center stage. As the media has been quick to point out, the narrative centers around the most recently available data, which indicates that enrollments are indeed declining across all teacher preparation programs:

  • Enrollment in traditional teacher preparation programs (at colleges and schools of education) has declined 30% between 2010 and 2014, according to Title II reports.
  • Master’s degree programs that prepare and develop teachers have been hit particularly hard, declining at an average rate of 5% annually between 2009 and 2013. Enrollment continued to decline in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The grim state of traditional teacher preparation programs is also fueled by the growth of alternative models advertising low cost and accelerated completion. These alternatives, in many cases not based in institutions of higher education (IHEs), include state-approved licensure programs based in school districts and providers like the Boston Teacher ResidencyTNTP, and the Relay Graduate School of Education. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of alternative providers not based in an IHE grew at an average rate of 6% annually. During the same period, alternative IHE-based providers grew at an average rate of 3.5% annually.

With fewer students enrolling in teacher preparation programs, the number of providers entering the market exacerbates the recruiting challenge for all programs. As alternative providers continue to garner media attention and grant support, schools of education are left in the difficult position of having to defend their teacher preparation programs and outcomes.

While the number of alternative providers in the market is growing, and enrollment in traditional schools of education is declining, focusing only on these two trends misses the bigger picture. Between 2010 and 2014, alternative providers actually saw greaterdeclines in both enrollment and completion than traditional providers. The real story is that enrollment numbers for traditional providers have slipped more slowly than their alternative counterparts.

This data shows that the future of traditional degree programs may not be so grim and that the bright, shiny, alternative models may not be resonating as much as the national narrative would have us believe.

Communicating the Value of Traditional Teacher Preparation

When it comes to gauging the value of teacher preparation programs, there is no better short-term litmus test than the perceptions of principals who hire their graduates. Eduventures’ 2015 Principal Survey asked 755 P-12 principals about their hiring preferences. 87% of respondents said that traditional preparation was an important factor when evaluating candidates, compared to 54% who said that alternative preparation was an important factor. The current workforce reflects this trend, as nearly 90% of teachers are prepared through traditional preparation programs (e.g., bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate programs), despite declining enrollments.

This is not to say that schools of education do not face significant challenges. Enrollments and completions are declining, after all. What this data demonstrates, however, is that traditional teacher preparation programs have a story to tell and need to communicate their value more clearly. As schools of education consider the national landscape of teacher preparation and their own enrollment trends, they should collect and share stories of students and alumni, promote innovative practices and faculty successes, and align their program offerings to the needs of local district partners.

Continue the conversation. Join several school of education leaders at the upcoming Eduventures Summit 2015, as we explore the benefits and challenges of partnerships between schools of education and P-12 districts and schools with an eye toward improving educator pipelines, clinical preparation, professional development, and, ultimately, student success. Panelists will discuss their innovative strategies for building and renewing partnerships to improve outcomes for students, schools, and higher education.