College of Education persists against declining national teacher enrollment

The EHS building in Feb. 1, 2016.

Like many universities in the United States, Central Michigan University is seeing a decline in the number of students pursuing degrees in education.

Statistics​ ​show​ ​that​ ​the​ ​number​ ​of​ ​students​ ​who​ ​are​ ​majoring​ ​in​ ​education​ ​have decreased​ ​over​ ​the​ ​years.​ ​A​ ​2016​ ​study​ ​from​ ​the​ ​Learning​ ​Policy​ ​Institute​ ​found​ ​there​ ​was a​ ​35​ ​percent​ ​reduction​ ​of​ ​enrollment​ ​in​ ​undergraduate​ ​teacher​ ​preparation​​ ​since 2009. 

CMU's​ ​College​ ​of​ ​Education​ ​and​ ​Human​ ​Services​ ​is working​ ​hard​ ​to combat the trend and prepare the country's future teachers.​ ​​ 

Between 2012 and 2016, overall undergraduate student enrollment in EHS has fallen from 1,692 to 1,530. Graduate enrollment has seen a similar decline, falling from 273 in 2012 to 173 in 2016.

EHS ​is​ ​not​ ​focusing​ ​on​ ​the​ ​numbers,​ ​but​ ​rather​ ​focusing​ ​on​ ​producing​ ​the​ ​best​ educators​ ​they​ ​can, said Katherine​ ​Dirkin,​ ​chair ​of​ ​the​ ​Teacher​ ​Education​ ​program.

“We’re​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​it​ ​in​ ​terms​ ​of​ ​the​ ​state​ ​needs,​ ​what​ ​our​ ​students​ ​need,”​ Dirkin said.​ ​“It’s about​ ​what’s​ ​the​ ​best​ ​thing​ ​we​ ​can​ ​do​ ​to​ ​prepare​ ​exceptional​ ​teacher​ ​educators.​ ​We​ ​could​ ​fill seats,​ ​but​ ​that’s​ ​not​ ​always​ ​producing​ ​the​ ​best​ ​teacher​ ​educators, and​ ​that’s​ ​our​ ​focus.” 

Dirkin​ ​said​ ​she​ ​is​ ​optimistic​ ​about​ ​the​ ​college’s​ ​direction ​and​ ​the​ ​changes​ ​that​ ​have been​ ​implemented​ ​in​ ​its​ ​innovative​ ​programs. 

Dale​ ​Elizabeth-Pehrsson,​ ​dean​ ​of​ ​the​ ​EHS,​ ​is also optimistic​ ​about​ ​the future. She said​ ​the​ ​EHS​ ​was​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​first​ ​colleges​ ​to​ ​hire​ ​its​ ​own recruiter​ ​for​ ​teacher​ ​education and​​ ​for​ ​the​ ​other​ ​services​ ​in​ ​the​ ​college. 

She​ ​believes​ ​in​ ​the​ ​direction​ ​of​ ​the​ ​college ​and ​that​ ​teaching​ ​is​ ​the​ ​“essential profession.” 

“Teachers​ ​have​ ​to​ ​know​ ​psychology, ​ ​physical​ ​development, ​ ​family​ ​dynamics,​ ​pedagogy, and​ ​be​ ​experts​ ​in​ ​content​ ​overall,”​ ​she​ ​said.​ ​“How​ ​many​ ​professions​ ​do​ ​you​ ​know​ ​that​ ​have​ ​to know​ ​all​ ​that?”

Teachers​ ​are​ ​not​ ​only​ ​important, ​ ​but​ ​absolutely necessary, ​Pehrsson said​.​

Total​ student ​enrollment​ ​in​ ​elementary​ ​and​ ​secondary​ ​schools​ ​is​ ​expected​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​by​ ​2 percent--​ ​to​ ​56.5​ ​million--​ ​between​ ​2013​ ​and​ ​2025,​ ​according​ ​to​ ​projections​ ​by​ ​the​ ​National Center​ ​for​ ​Education​ ​Statistics.​ ​In​ ​21​ ​states,​ ​enrollment​ ​is​ ​projected​ ​to​ ​increase​ ​by​ ​5​ ​percent​ ​or more.

But​ ​where​ ​there​ ​is​ ​an​ ​increase​ ​of​ ​incoming​ ​students,​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​lack​ ​of​ ​incoming teachers.​ 

Nationally,​ ​the​ ​2016​ ​median​ ​annual​ ​wages​ ​for​ ​high​ ​school​ ​teachers​ ​was​ ​$58,030, according​ ​to​ ​the​ ​Bureau​ ​of​ ​Labor​ ​Statistics.​ ​In​ ​addition​ ​to​ ​working​ ​regular​ ​school​ ​hours, teachers​ ​put​ ​in​ ​extra​ ​time​ ​grading​ ​homework,​ ​planning​ ​curriculum,​ ​meeting​ ​with​ ​parents​ ​and engaging​ ​with​ ​extracurricular​ ​activities. 

Owosso​ ​sophomore​ ​Kyle​ ​Wendling,​ ​a​ ​music​ ​education​ ​major​,​ ​recalled​ ​how money​ ​can​ ​be​ ​a​ ​difficult​ ​part​ ​of​ ​deciding​ ​to​ ​pursue​ ​education.​ ​

“It’s​ ​difficult​ ​to​ ​get​ ​through​ ​college as​ ​a​ ​music​ ​education​ ​major. ​The​ ​payoff ​sometimes​ ​isn’t​ ​what people​ ​need​ ​considering​ ​the​ ​amount​ ​of​ ​work​ ​we​ ​put​ ​in," Wendling said. ​"As​ ​music​ ​majors,​ ​we​ ​have​ ​to​ ​buy​ ​our own​ ​instruments​ ​and​ ​stuff,​ ​and​ ​that’s​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​money​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​tuition​ ​and​ ​everything.​ ​The eventual​ ​salary​ ​just​ ​isn’t​ ​enough​ ​for​ ​some​ ​people.”

For students like Union​ ​City​ ​junior​ ​April​ ​Inman​, even disincentives salaries aren't enough to stifle her passion for education. Inman cites​ her fourth grade teacher Marcie Mead as​ ​her inspiration​ ​to​ ​pursue​ ​an​ elementary education​ ​major. 

"(Mrs. Mead) ​helped​ ​me​ ​to​ ​discover​ ​I​ ​had​ ​a learning​ ​disability​ ​that​ ​know​ ​one​ ​else​ ​knew​ ​about,​ ​and​ ​she​ ​got​ ​me​ ​help​ ​with​ ​that​ ​so​ ​I​ ​was​ ​able​ ​to overcome​ ​it," Inman said.​ "​I​ ​want​ ​there​ ​to​ ​be​ ​more​ ​teachers​ ​who​ ​are​ ​attentive​ ​of​ ​kids​ ​who​ ​aren’t​ ​doing​ ​as​ ​well as​ ​everybody​ ​else.”

Along​ ​with​ ​salary,​ ​there​ ​are​ ​other​ ​factors​ ​that​ ​have​ hindered education majors. 

In​ ​2013,​ ​many​ ​students​ ​were​ ​discouraged​ ​from​ ​beginning​ ​a​ ​pathway​ ​to​ ​teaching​ ​when the​ ​Professional​ ​Readiness​ ​Exam​ ​was​ ​implemented​ ​as​ ​the​ ​basic​ ​certification​ ​test​ ​for​ ​aspiring teachers.​ ​This​ ​test,​ ​which​ ​was​ ​considered​ ​much​ ​more​ ​difficult​ ​than​ ​the​ ​previous​ ​Basic​ ​Skills test,​​ ​had​ only ​a​ ​20 percent​ ​pass​ ​rate​ ​for​ those​ ​who​ ​took​ ​it.​ ​The​ ​pass​-rate​ ​under​ ​the​ ​Basic​ ​Skills test​ ​was​ ​82 percent. 

The 26​ ​colleges​ ​involved​ ​with​ ​the​ ​PRE​ argued ​ ​the ​difficulty​ might ​deter​ ​students​ ​from​ ​pursuing​ ​education​ ​degrees.​ ​The colleges​ ​submitted​ ​a​ ​study​ ​to​ ​the Michigan​ ​Department​ ​of​ ​Education,​ ​in​ ​which​ ​they​ ​outlined​ ​the​ ​results​ ​they​ ​saw​ ​and​ ​why​ ​they thought​ ​the​ ​PRE​ ​prevented ​students​ ​from​ ​becoming​ ​teachers. 

​In​ ​February​ ​2017,​ ​the MDE​ ​ruled​ ​to​ ​phase​ ​out​ ​the​ ​PRE. 

As​ ​of​ ​Oct.​ ​1,​ ​the​ ​PRE​ ​was​ ​no​ ​longer​ ​available​ ​as​ ​an​ ​option​ ​for​ ​fulfilling​ ​the basic​ ​skills​ ​examination​ ​for​ ​student​ ​teaching​ ​in​ ​Michigan.​ ​Students​ ​in​ ​Michigan​ ​may​ ​now​ ​use SAT​ ​scores​ ​as​ ​their​ ​teaching​ ​certification.