In 2004, teaching degrees were awarded to 106,300 students in the US. Even then, that didn’t fill the need. But those numbers have since slipped even further. In 2014, only 98,900 education graduates crossed the boards, and the numbers have continued that downwards slide.
In some states, the plunge has been even more dramatic. In Pennsylvania, for example, those same stats slipped from more than 18,000 to only 7,180 during 2013 to 2015, a loss of 61%. Traditionally, an education major was the most popular course for undergraduates at the state’s fourteen public universities, but even including those who don’t complete a degree in the total, majoring students have gone down by more than a third.
It’s easy to assign some of the blame for these losses, though hard to nail down specifics. In a count by the Keystone Research Center, a policy institute that tracks educational statistics, 27,000 school jobs have been cut out of existence in Pennsylvania since 2010. It’s easy to imagine students considering their choices and discarding educational degrees as a dead-end street.
Other resources point the blame at public officials, many of whom are outspokenly critical about teachers. Multiple teachers’ unions across the country have received public ire for negotiating higher pay, decent benefits, and administrative support. The average teacher’s salary in the US is between $30k and $50k for a job legendary for its amount of take-home work and abuse from students, parents, and administrative staff.
It’s easy to see why teaching as a career path might appeal less and less to an undergraduate student body. Instead, we’re seeing their numbers migrate over to business majors. But the system needs teachers now than ever before. Many states, both despite and because of budget cuts, are seeing huge teacher shortages, especially in harder-to-fill specialist categories like special education and STEM subjects.
Many states, seeing increasingly dire shortages on the horizon, are lowering the bar for new teachers, easing requirements and essentially doing anything they can to keep bodies in front of their classes. But that is hardly a perfect solution, and it may be a harmful one in the long term. What we need nationwide is qualified individuals encouraged, assisted, and inspired to become teachers through the proper channels, so our youth get all the benefits of a fully engaged educator.