By ALEX FRIEDRICH
After a spike in the number of students in UMW’s College of Education from 2016-2017, the college’s student body has dropped by a fifth of that number for the 2018-2019 school year. While this may seem like a drastic reduction in the enrollment number, the college’s student body has fluctuated over the last seven years.
“I have heard nothing but good things about the College of Education here at UMW,” said senior history major Billy Senicola. “It just seems crazy to me that more people both don’t want to enroll at UMW’s College of Education, but also don’t want to become teachers in general.”
UMW’s College of Education is not the only college in the nation to struggle with increasing its student body. According to a 2016 report from Leaning Policy Institute, a nonprofit institute, enrollment in teacher education had dropped 35 percent nationally, 691,000 to 451,000, between 2009 and 2014.
According to Peter Kelly, the Dean of UMW’s College of Education, “There have been lots of fluctuation in enrollments in the College of Education [at UMW] over the past seven years. Some part of this may be due to a series of leadership transitions during that same time in the College of Education.” Kelly went on to say, “we had a big class [during the 2016-2017 year] because we changed the admissions policy to allow students to take up to three education courses prior to passing admissions exams that year.”
While there was a spike in class size for the 2016-2017 school year at the College of Education, in no way does it reflect a positive trajectory regarding the larger issue of the nation’s shortage of college students learning to become teachers.
According to a 2017 Washington Post article, “In Virginia, teacher vacancies increased by 40 percent in the last decade. . . in 2016, more than 1,000 teaching positions remained unfilled two months into the academic year, according to Virginia Department of Education data.”
In the last couple of years, Virginia State politicians have made huge efforts to raise awareness of the problem and attract hopeful future public school teachers.
As an effort to lessen Virginia’s teacher shortage, then Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe implemented an emergency regulation on Dec. 10, 2017, which would allow Virginia’s public universities and colleges to start offering a major in education to undergraduate students by March 1, 2018.
Before the regulation, most public colleges and universities in Virginia required students to first acquire a bachelor’s degree in an area of subject, and then enter a teacher preparation program for a fifth year of school. This five-year program is currently the format the College of Education at UMW follows.
“We are currently in the process of preparing for national accreditation and are focused on enhancing the learning experiences for our students,” said Kelly. “As a result of pressure from the state house, we are also in the process of developing undergraduate programs in education, which, hopefully, will increase student enrollment in the College of Education.”
Not only will creating undergraduate courses in education help prepare students who wish to go on to receive a master’s in education, it will also be more cost efficient to those who have trouble affording a fifth year of college. According to the aforementioned Washington Post article, “[McAuliffe’s regulation] would reduce the cost of pursuing a career in education. Some students, [according to Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association], opt not to enter teaching programs because of the cost.”
Aside from creating undergraduate education courses, the College of Education is also looking to get better connected with the high schools and community colleges around the area to inspire possible future teachers.
“We are working with community colleges to develop efficient pathways for students into our program,” said Kelly. “We are [also] working with high schools [in the surrounding area] and their Teacher for Tomorrow and Teacher Cadet Programs.”
While UMW’s College of Education is currently working to bring in students who wish to become teachers, they are also looking to attract students who are interested in entering Leadership Education positions (e.g., schools principal, university dean) with similar efforts.
“With community colleges, the college is making it easier to transfer in, and are making sure the courses balance out,” said Beverly Epps, a professor with the College of Education who is familiar with the college’s leadership education programs. “We are also trying to make the future students know that scholarships are available.”
In response to the shortage of teachers in the nation, Francisco Palomo, a senior and history major who plans to go on for his Master’s in Education with UMW’s five-year program, said he believes it is a difficult problem to tackle.
“I think alongside with the shortage of teachers in general, there is a shortage in teachers of color,” said Palomo. “It’s difficult to say what can be done, but I think reaching out to surrounding school districts and hosting or traveling to middle and high schools [to get] students excited or interested in the career can possibly help.”
Along with creating undergraduate classes and bettering various pathways programs between schools in the area and UMW’s College of Education, the college is also looking to have its own departmental building on campus.
By the fall semester of 2020, UMW’s old Seacobeck dining hall on the intersection of College Ave. and Seacobeck St. will become the new department building for the College of Education. Both faculty and students are excited for the college’s new future home.
“UMW’s commitment to the [College of Education] is evident in the Seacobeck Renovation – a building that will serve as the new home of the [College of Education],” said Kelly. “I really think making that building the new home for the department will also help bring in future students for the College of Education.”
“I think it’s great the College of Education will be getting its own building,” said Palomo. “I am a little sad I won’t be able to enjoy it [myself], but I know it will become a great space for future students.”