- Less than one out of every 10 Americans pursuing a college degree majored in education by 2015, reports Market Watch. And, even fewer plan to study education in the future, as data from UCLA's annual survey of college freshman showed only 4.6% of them wanted to major in education in 2016, down from about 10% in 2005. This is happening in particular with women, who saw their share of education majors fall from 32% to 11% over the past 40 years.
- The decline in education majors is occurring at the same time the United States has been struggling with a teacher shortage in public elementary and secondary schools, which are facing growing demand as statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics show the share of students attending will rise by 700,000 students between 2017 and 2025. Moreover, many teachers are leaving the profession, as The Learning Policy Institute finds nearly 8% of teachers left the profession over the last 10 years.
- A few states have responded by attempting to soften teacher qualification requirements and encouraging more colleges and universities to offer education as a major. However, research suggests teachers with degrees in teaching methods or curriculum design are less likely to leave the profession, not to mention other factors that can affect retention like fair pay and a sense of autonomy.
Schools across the nation are currently experiencing a growth in demand, but lacking the necessary supply of experienced teachers to deliver students a high-quality education. The situation is so dire in some areas, like STEM curriculum for instance, that President Obama in his 2011 State of the Union address actually called on universities to train 100,000 new elementary and secondary school science and math teachers by 2021. As a result many postsecondary institutions have already started to step up and create partnerships across K12 to build out graduates in these educational fields.
But even with these efforts, higher education and K-12 leaders may need to do more to facilitate the graduation of more students into the profession, as the report from Learning Policy Institute cited above shows teacher retention is an entirely different challenge. As research shows teachers might feel more compelled to stay in the field with proper education degree attainment at the postsecondary level, higher education leaders can not only look for qualified shorter credentialing options, but also make sure their institutions are actually providing interesting and advanced degree options in the field.
Moreover, the lack of diverse teachers amidst the increasing number of minority students adds another layer of complexity to the trend. Many states are beginning to recruit students for the profession while they are in high school and others are turning to people in the community and non-instructional staff. Fewer education majors could compromise teaching quality. Many states are seeking to add teachers through programs that allow people to jump into teacher roles while pursuing teaching credentials. However, some worry these teachers might be unprepared to manage a classroom or lack pedagogical training, and these teachers are at a greater risk of leaving the profession. With student-teacher ratios on the rise across the country, the ripple effect could also impact the preparedness of students entering into college and universities.