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Harvard dissolves undergrad teacher education program

Dive Brief:

  • Citing extremely low enrollment, Harvard University has ended its Undergraduate Teacher Education Program and is pivoting to a master’s-only program for training future teachers. 
  • The decision to shift also followed increasing difficulty for Harvard undergraduates in fulfilling teacher licensing requirements due to bureaucratic obstacles, said Heather Hill, education professor at Harvard and co-chair of the college’s Teaching and Teacher Leadership master’s program. Students specifically faced difficulties participating in the program while completing a senior thesis, she said. 
  • However, even without a designated program for undergraduates, students can still seek a teaching license individually through Harvard, Hill said. Moreover, she said the TTL master’s program is already increasing the number of teachers Harvard is training. 

Dive Insight:

As it becomes increasingly urgent to prepare more teachers for the staffing shortage in K-12 worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard has seen more enrollment interest in a teacher preparation program among master’s students than undergrads.

The most recent cohort enrolled 38 students in a fifth-year teacher residency program at Harvard, Hill said. This residency initiative, known as the Harvard Teacher Fellows program, is a combined fellowship and master’s program that will also be rolled over into the TTL master’s program.

With the rollout of the recent TTL master’s program and a February announcement of a $40 million donation to support this teacher training initiative, Hill said she expects increased enrollment.

In recent years, only two to five students a year have participated in the undergraduate option, Hill said. “You can see the sort of math there,” she said. “Do you want to serve two students, or do you want to serve a much larger number of students?”

The Undergraduate Teacher Education Program was made up of four courses totaling 16 credits that allowed a student to receive a license to teach in secondary public schools in Massachusetts and 40-plus other states, according to the Harvard 2021-22 student handbook

In the fall of 2020, 970 students were pursuing an education master’s degree compared to nine students enrolled to get an undergraduate degree in education, according to the university’s enrollment statistics.

The annual number of undergraduate education degrees awarded has fallen by more than 50% in nearly five decades, according to a recent report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Specifically, the number of undergrad degrees conferred peaked at about 200,000 in the early 1970s and then declined to less than 90,000 in 2018-19, the AACTE report found. 

Master’s education degrees are the most commonly awarded degree in the field, the report said. Since 2015, the annual number of education master’s degrees has remained steady at 145,000, it found. 

Jacqueline Rodriguez, AACTE’s vice president of research, policy and advocacy, said she hasn’t noticed any significant trend of undergraduate education programs dissolving or reconfiguring like at Harvard.

Some colleges have done this in recent years, she said, but not in a sizable way. 

“When it is happening, like Harvard in this situation, it’s mostly because there are very few students, perhaps less than five, who are either applying or even admitted into those programs annually,” Rodriguez said. “It’s not cost-effective for the school of education to host an undergrad program when those students could be getting a graduate degree.”

The declining attraction to teaching is driving a downward trend in education degrees, Rodriguez said. While students still want to go into teaching, barriers like high-cost student loans and low teacher pay stand in the way, she said. 

Rodriquez noted several solutions to the problem, including significantly increasing teacher salaries and creating paid teacher residency programs, like grow-your-own initiatives.

Additionally, she said a lot of teaching candidates consider pursuing the field depending on “whether or not they are going to have high debt when they come out and that they feel like, when they come out, they’re going to be well-respected.”


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