Fewer NC students seeking teaching degrees

Posted August 15, 2014 6:52 p.m. EDT

— Fifteen schools in the University of North Carolina system offer education degrees, and enrollment in those undergraduate and graduate programs has dropped 17.6 percent since 2010, according to UNC figures.

With fewer people entering the profession and veteran teachers leaving for bigger paychecks elsewhere, experts say North Carolina classrooms could soon face a crisis.

"I think there's a really negative climate around teaching and teachers right now," Michael Maher, assistant dean of the College of Education at North Carolina State University, said Friday.

The College of Education produces many of North Carolina's highly sought-after math and science teachers. In 2010, the school had 151 first-year students; this fall, there are only 72 – a 52 percent drop.

Maher points to much-publicized battles in the legislature over teacher pay, class sizes and tenure, along with the allure of prestigious private-sector jobs, as aspects that make it more difficult to recruit students into the profession.

"How do I entice a 17-, 18-year-old to come into the College of Education to be a math teacher or a science teacher when they can go to the College of Engineering or they can go to the College of Sciences and they can work for an engineering firm and earn twice the salary their first year out?" he said.

Some of the teachers North Carolina does produce don't stay long enough for the state to reap any rewards. In 2011, out of 400 N.C. State student teachers, 25 took jobs in other states. Last year, the university produced 220 student teachers, and 43 left North Carolina.

Maher said he hopes the recent pay raise passed by state lawmakers will help and that the climate for teachers in North Carolina improves soon.

"I think it's a step in the right direction. I think teachers are underpaid. They're undervalued," he said.

Sophomore Rachel Coffman said she remains convinced teaching math is the right profession for her. She said she was inspired by some of her teachers at Sanderson High School in Raleigh.

"Teaching isn't about the money. It's about being in a career where you can really impact others," Coffman said. "You could impact a lot of people in one place."

Although she has heard about teachers struggling for respect in North Carolina, she said she isn't second-guessing her career path.

N.C. State continues to aggressively recruit aspiring teachers out of high school and has even raised its admissions standards, Maher said.