NC sees 30 percent drop in those studying to be teachers

Posted March 19, 2016
Updated March 20, 2016

— In a few short months, thousands of students across North Carolina will flip their tassel and become official high school graduates. They all had teachers, but becoming teachers themselves doesn’t seem to be a part of the plan.

Enrollment at the 15 University of North Carolina Schools of Education has dropped by 30 percent since 2010, according to Alisa Chapman, UNC System vice president for academic and university programs. The UNC system provides 37 percent of the state’s teachers, so the decline in teaching interest has made teacher recruitment more difficult.

For third-grade teacher Kelsie Ferguson, the decision to become a teacher was made easy by a former teacher recruitment program in North Carolina.

"I don’t think I would’ve became a teacher if it wasn’t for the Teaching Fellows Program,” said Ferguson. “I knew I wanted to do something to help people, but I wasn’t sure what that was until the Teaching Fellows program was brought to my attention.”

From 1986 to 2011, high school seniors who planned a career in teaching could earn a $26,000, merit-based scholarship to study education at any public university in North Carolina. Scholarship recipients were then required to teach four years at a public school in North Carolina. Over the years, 8,500 teachers took advantage of the program.

In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly cut funding for the program, and the May 2015 college graduates were the last class of teaching fellows.

Some believe it was the elimination of this teacher recruitment program that has contributed to the present teaching shortage in North Carolina.

Keith Poston is the executive director and president of the North Carolina Public School Forum, which gave administrative assistance to the Teching Fellows program and conceptualized the idea back in 1986.

Poston says the program was successful in its ability to recruit and retain teachers. "Presently, 5,100 teachers in North Carolina classrooms are Teaching Fellows,” he said.

For Poston it’s more than recruitment that needs to be improved to bring teachers to North Carolina.

"Unless we make the profession more attractive, meaning better salary, career advancement, more respect the right supplies to do your job, we’re going to continue to see a decline,” he said.

It's a decline that Ferguson links directly to the end of the Teaching Fellows Program.

"So many people who could have been teachers and would have been really good at it might not consider it now because they won't be afforded this opportunity," she said.

CB Cotton began volunteering with Carolina Week as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has served in reporter, anchor and investigative reporter roles. As a senior, she's a one-woman band, shooting, writing and editing her own stories.


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