Despite national decline in teachers, education majors at UWRF hold steady

Posted March 13, 2019

The number of education majors in universities around the nation continues to decrease, making for a shortage of teachers, according to a number of studies. However, enrollment in certain majors within the College of Education and Professional Studies (CEPS) at UW-River Falls is holding steady.

The Learning Policy Institute, a California-based nonprofit organization, for a number of years has been warning about the teacher shortage.

“Most states have been struggling to address teacher shortages for several years now, often filling the vacuum with underprepared teachers who aren’t able to give children the high-quality learning they need and who leave at two to three times the rate of well-prepared teachers,” the institute wrote in a press release announcing release of its 2018 study of the national teacher shortage.

The dwindling number of education majors could be putting future generations’ education at risk.

A study by the U.S Census Bureau looked at the number of college students dedicating their higher education to teaching. In 2015, fewer than one in 10 college students were pursuing a degree in education. Forty years earlier, about 20 percent of all college students had an education-based major.

Stacy Furness, assistant dean of CEPS, said salary may have something to do with the dropping numbers in current and future teachers. In Wisconsin, according to the Learning Policy Institute, the average starting salary of a teacher in 2016-2017 was $36,983, less than the national average of $38,617.

School districts in Minnesota are known to pay teachers more than in Wisconsin, but many southern states including Oklahoma, Mississippi and North Carolina are ranked the lowest paid states for educators, according to Forbes magazine.

“Some people think, ‘I couldn’t afford to be a teacher because the salary is too low,'” Furness said. “And certainly in some parts in the United States that is absolutely true.”

However, at UWRF the number of education majors in general has been steady. For example, a total of 424 undergraduates were enrolled in the elementary education major as of fall 2018, according to UWRF’s Office of Institutional Research. A year earlier, the college had 435 elementary education majors.

Furness said that the attractive location of River Falls makes it easy for students to get certifications in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, but the notable education programs are what helps students stay and prepare for teaching other minds.

“Candidates might want to come here because we have a very good program and of course we have a location advantage in that we can recruit from a huge metropolitan area, being in the Twin Cities, and we can recruit from Wisconsin,” Furness said.

Unlike education programs at other universities, UWRF has students take in-classroom classes called “blocks” before student teaching in order to prepare them for the real world.

Some UWRF education majors explain that this helps them get ideas for lesson plans, as well as getting accustomed to learning how to teach.

Alicia Beckfeld, a senior elementary education major, said that not only did UWRF have the interactive learning program that she was looking for, but the price tag could not be beat.

“I feel like a lot of people are not only attracted to the cost to come here,” she said, “but just that it’s a really good program that prepares educators really well.”