Preparing teachers in community colleges makes sense—and cents

Community and technical colleges have helped shorten the time to obtain a degree for hundreds of thousands of secondary school students.
Hans A. Andrews and Greg Rockhold
Hans A. Andrews and Greg Rockhold
Dr. Hans Andrews is credited with starting the first dual-credit program in the country between a community college and secondary schools in Illinois. His work helped set the standard for the rest of the country. He is presently a distinguished fellow in community college leadership and is past president of Olney Central College in Illinois. Dr. Greg Rockhold has served on the National Association of Secondary School Principals board, was the president of the New Mexico Coalition of School Administrators, and was the executive director of the New Mexico Association of Secondary School Principals. He also served as a superintendent.

The U.S. is facing a severe teacher shortage now and in the foreseeable future. Urgent action is needed now to address this issue nationally. One recent study reported that 55% of new hires for teaching in rural areas are not prepared academically as teachers. Over half of these new hires leave their positions within a three-year period (Overschelde, 2024).

The teacher shortage crisis is affecting countries worldwide. A few of these countries and their concerns are as follows:

England found that some 40,000 teachers were leaving their workforce. This was 9% of the teaching workforce (Adams, 2023). Australia’s teacher shortage raised concerns about how it would be turned around (Longmuir, 2023). The European countries of Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria, and France have over 80,000 teacher shortages. A primary concern of these countries is what happens to the high quality of teaching they have experienced through the decades (Shehnaz, 2022).

What do the drastic shortages in the U.S. look like?

Students who had earned teaching licenses dropped from 320,000 in 2006 to 215,000 by 2013. In addition, those earning a teaching license dropped from a peak level in 2009 of 700,000 to a figure close to 400,000 in 2020 (Barnum, 2023).

Shortages reported in recent years

The 2020-21 and 2021-22 teacher shortages, reported by 21 states, were estimated at 27,844 unfilled teaching across the country. In addition, 286,290 non-certified teachers were estimated not to be fully certified in their teaching assignments. Forty-seven states plus the District of Columbia reported (Franco & Patrick, 2023).

The state of Texas hired one in three of its new incoming teachers without teacher certification in 2022- 2023. By state requirement, parents of the students assigned to these non-certified teachers’ classrooms are to be notified (Wurman, 2023).

The following is a list of teacher shortages reported in the following sampling of states 2023. The first number reflects the number of ‘non-certified’ teachers. The second number is the number of ‘vacated’ positions (no teacher available):

  • California—Not fully certified: 27,475 Unfilled positions: Not Reported
  • Florida—Not fully certified: 22,538 Unfilled positions: 3,911
  • Washington—Not fully certified: 4,880 Unfilled positions: 776
  • Oregon—Not fully certified: 4,653 Unfilled positions: Not Reported
  • Michigan—Not fully certified: 5,936 Unfilled positions: 1,228
  • New Mexico—Not fully certified: Not Reported Unfilled positions: 1,046
  • Virginia—Not fully certified: 11,212 Unfilled positions: 2,815
  • Texas—Not fully certified: 49,346 Unfilled positions: Not Reported
  • North Carolina—Not fully certified: 6,207 Unfilled positions: 3,218
  • Arizona—Not fully certified: 5,072 Unfilled positions: 1,729

Community–technical colleges in the above states

  • California 73 (+43 with multiple campuses)
  • Florida 28
  • Washington 33 (+2 with multiple campuses)
  • Oregon 17
  • Michigan 28
  • New Mexico 13
  • Virginia 23
  • Texas 57 (+17 with multiple campuses)
  • North Carolina 58
  • Arizona 13 (+13 with multiple campuses)

Why community–technical colleges are the solution

Several states have stated in their education plans that baccalaureate degrees can be considered for community colleges in areas with shortages. Several such programs exist in California, Florida, and several other states.

While these same states have severe shortages of teachers in their K12 schools, only Florida has, to date, approved its community colleges to prepare teachers in those teaching areas most in need. The states of Washington and Oregon and a few others have approved pre-school teaching programs.

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There are nearly 1,200 community-technical colleges across the U.S. They are strategically located in all 50 states, and every U.S. K-12 school district is near one of these colleges.

Concerns of community-technical colleges entering the teacher preparation market

A recent research paper has addressed the concerns of numerous states that community–technical colleges offering baccalaureate degree programs would ‘harm’ or be a significant problem for the universities and four-year colleges. What was found is that these concerns have been overblown.

One of the few studies by the University of Florida researchers found no adverse effect on public or private not-for-profits. Some adverse effects were documented for private-for-profits. The positives they identified were significant in terms of the diversity of students who were able to enroll in community–technical college baccalaureate degrees:

  • Average age was older (31-32)
  • More racially and ethnically diverse
  • Many came from families with limited financial resources to pay for college
  • Many also worked full-time to support themselves and family (Bragg, 2024)

Benefits of dual/concurrent enrollment while attending high school:

Community and technical colleges have helped shorten the time to obtain a degree for hundreds of thousands of secondary school students. The importance of these programs in terms of time to degree for the possibility of preparing baccalaureate degree teachers is paramount.

Almost every community–technical college in the U.S. now offers dual/concurrent enrollment programs. They are offered in general education, technical, apprenticeship, and vocational courses. The benefits of starting early with college courses include the following:

1. Accelerated Learning: Students can get a head start on their college education. They enroll in college-level coursework, explore new subject areas, and challenge themselves academically. A significant number of these students now graduate from their secondary school with (1) one semester, (2) one year, and (3) several graduates with two years of college credit and an associate degree.

2. College Credit: Completing dual/concurrent enrollment courses means earning high school and college credits simultaneously. This gives students an early taste of the college experience and allows them to graduate from college earlier.

3. Smooth Transition: Engaging in dual/concurrent enrollment helps ease the transition from high school to college.

4. Exploration and Flexibility: This program offers courses across various disciplines. The exposure helps inform students of future academic and career choices.

Dual/concurrent students can enroll in select college courses taught at their local secondary school, community college, or online. Experienced faculty members will guide students through the material, ensuring they receive quality teaching that aligns with their goals.

Student loan burdens: University vs. community–technical colleges

A study by the Learning Policy Institute analyzed some of the impacts that student loans have on those students entering teaching as a profession:

  • Approximately 2.1 million (60%) have taken out loans
  • Nearly 1.3 million are still paying off those loans
  • Student loans disproportionately impact (1) new teachers, (2) special education, and (3) Black teachers.
  • Over one-third of these teachers are working in other jobs due to those loans
  • The stress levels for these teachers are reported as ‘high’ or ‘very high’ due in part to these loan debts

Community–technical colleges make cents for students: The Community College Daily, in their recent study of community-technical college students and student loans, published the following:

  • 67% of the graduates of the community and technical colleges in 2019-20 had not taken out loans
  • For-profit community college institutions were found to have only 9% who had not taken out loans
  • Only 39% of university and four-year college students had not taken out loans
  • Average tuition and fees for public two-year colleges in 2023-24 was $3,990
  • Average tuition and fees at U.S. universities was $11,260 in the same year (Dembicki, 2023)

Many students and their families are worried about the high cost of education. Community colleges offer a great solution by providing affordable tuition and a range of financial aid options. By reducing the financial burden, students can concentrate on their studies without being weighed down by excessive student loan debts. In addition, attending a community college allows students to stay close to family and friends, eliminating the need for costly relocations while pursuing their educational goals.

Common sense on utilizing community–technical colleges now as a new teacher preparation pipeline

  • Community colleges are primed to offer baccalaureate degrees in teaching, which can do much to help lessen the national teacher shortage crisis.
  • Community colleges prioritize creating a supportive learning environment for students, where dedicated faculty members provide personalized attention and guidance throughout their academic journey.
  • Many students have additional work or family commitments and responsibilities. That is why community – technical colleges offer flexible class schedules, including evening and online options. These options allow the student to customize their education around their busy life.

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