News 18 Investigates: Looming teacher shortage? Part 2

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) – Purdue University officials tell News 18 they are working hard to address what could be a looming teacher shortage.

It’s an exclusive story we brought you Monday on News 18 where superintendents in all three Tippecanoe County school districts say the teacher pool for hiring is smaller than ever.

Of the roughly 6,000 newly arrived freshmen on Purdue’s campus, 162 have indicated a desire to become a teacher. Most, about 100, are enrolled in the College of Education. The rest are enrolled in the teacher education programs in other colleges.

Dean of Education Maryann Santos de Barona said it’s a number that has held steady from last year.

“That’s not where we would like to be, in the future. But it certainly is the case that we haven’t lost ground,” she said.

That’s a contrast to others.

For example, when it comes to prospective teachers, Ball State’s fall enrollment last year was 434 students. As of last month, enrollment was at 353, a drop of almost 20 percent.

It’s why West Lafayette Superintendent Rocky Killion is worried about a looming long-term shortage of teachers.

“We’re not going to have the staff to provide quality teachers in the classroom unless we turn this thing around,” said Killion.

Purdue’s College of Education is actively trying to do just that.

Santos de Barona said the University could easily handle another 100 teachers.

She’s started a multi-prong approach to attract them, including hiring a teacher education recruiter to travel to high schools around the state and developing a weeklong summer program called EXCITE! to help high schoolers explore teaching as a career.

“I think it’s the combination of efforts that we’ve put together that has been making a difference,” said Santos de Barona.

It’s what the Tippecanoe School Corporation is also trying to do with some of its high school students, giving them hands on chances to experience the career before they go off to college.

“Definitely we need to continue to encourage young people to get into education,” said TSC Superintendent Scott Hanback.

Santos de Barona believes fewer students are coming to college wanting to become a teacher because education is in a time of transition, with both ongoing state and national reforms. The negative news associated with them doesn’t help either.

But she believes with the Baby Boomer generation already starting to retire, it’s a great time to join the profession.

She also said with a projected growth in the need of teachers of 12 percent by 2022, the growth in college students at Purdue, Ball State and other colleges has to keep up. Because if holding steady at 160 continues, it is actually falling behind and makes a possible teacher shortage a more likely possibility.

“Unless we start bringing in new individuals and preparing them, I think there’s going to be increasing difficulty finding the right individuals to come into the classroom,” said Santos de Barona.

Purdue is also working to help current educators with various teacher development programs.

One of the things Santos de Barona is most excited about is the development of a book that lays out a road map to help teachers teach the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics from elementary school on up. The resource should be published and available for purchase beginning in April.

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