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January/February 2020

Partnerships Create Pathways to Meet Illinois’ Teacher Shortage

Commentary by William “Bill” Marzano


A comprehensive and integrated human resource management strategy is comprised of three components: recruitment, training, and retention. These key components of a strategic plan to meet the teacher shortage in Illinois were presented to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) in November 2019, in effort to leverage the state’s higher education system to efficiently train the future educators needed to meet the statewide teacher shortage.
 
Regarding recruitment, a statewide Educators Rising program was proposed at the cost of $1 million. Educators Rising is a national program sponsored by Phi Delta Kappa, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers, which provides opportunities for high school students to learn about the field of education through clubs or classes and engage in early teaching experiences as tutors or mentors of younger students. A successful Educators Rising partnership in the Fox Valley region comprised of Aurora University and 16 high schools has demonstrated that this program consistently produces sizeable numbers of students interested in pursuing a teaching degree. Scaling this program to the statewide level can effectively address the recruitment issue by producing a sufficiently large and also diverse group of candidates to become the future teachers needed to address the shortage in the state.
 
Regarding retention, re-establishing a New Teacher Mentoring program was proposed at the cost of $20 million. New Teacher Mentoring was established by law more than 15 years ago but has not been funded since 2009. The early-career support provided by this program demonstrated positive outcomes for both increased teacher effectiveness and reduced teacher turnover. Clearly, this program can effectively address the retention issue by ensuring that new teachers will have abundant support as they enter their first classrooms, will be groomed to succeed, and are more likely to stay in the profession.
 
Between these two strong programs a strong training/teacher preparation program must be in place. Illinois has a large and robust higher education system that can effectively train these candidates to baccalaureate completion and initial licensure. It is proposed that the two components of the state’s post-secondary system be leveraged so that efficient and cost-effective pathways of teacher preparation are discernible and available.

Universities and Colleges
Illinois has a significant number of colleges and universities within its borders. The largest component of the system is the 12 public universities located throughout the state. In Fall 2018, enrollment for these institutions totaled more than 163,000 students. Additionally, there are approximately 150 private colleges and universities, both not-for-profit and for-profit. The large number and diversity of the colleges and universities in Illinois is an asset. There are many choices available, from large public universities, such as the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign to smaller private universities, such as Aurora University. Consequently, the system provides for both a wide range of collegial experiences and costs. Physical access to these higher education institutions is generally good, except for portions of rural Illinois (this is addressed later in this commentary). The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) serves to oversee the 12 public universities and coordinate the efforts of the public universities, the private colleges and universities, and the public community college system.

Public Community Colleges
Illinois is widely recognized for its large and comprehensive community college systems, which serve nearly one million students each year and provide access throughout the state with 39 college districts and 48 campuses. The design of the system is such that every resident of Illinois is no more than one-hour driving distance from the closest community college campus. The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) serves as an advisory board to its constituent colleges. In addition to access, the system is noted for its affordability. Because each district derives revenue from its local real estate tax base, public community colleges are able to offer tuition rates significantly lower than those of colleges or universities.
 
The future teachers developed by the proposed Educators Rising program thus have an array of options to select from to pursue a teacher preparation program. If the Educators Rising program is successful in recruiting a large and more diverse cohort of future teachers, a significant portion of these students may be first-generation college students and/or economically challenged. These characteristics create special considerations, and any early college experience will be of benefit to these students.
 
Early Start/Really Smart Partnerships
High school students can get an “early start” on their college work if their school has a dual-credit partnership with a community college. Dual-credit courses are college courses delivered in a variety of settings for which secondary students additionally receive credit towards meeting high school graduation requirements. Such partnerships are relatively common throughout the state and offer several advantages. First of all, the dual-credit courses are a relatively safe testing ground for college-level work. Studies usually reveal a positive correlation between early college courses work and later persistence and completion. Additionally, this completed coursework would allow students to take a lighter course load per semester as they start their regular college career. Such a condition also contributes to higher course and degree completion rates. Finally, these early start courses help to reduce the overall cost of higher education for the student and family.
 
A recent initiative leveraging this dual-credit advantage is the Scaling Education Pathways in Illinois (SEPI) program. Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) is one grantee under this new program and is collaborating with John A. Logan College, Shawnee Community College, and area high schools. While in high school, students can take two of SIUC’s required teacher education program core curriculum classes through the partner community colleges and earn dual high school/college credit. Educators Rising clubs for recruiting future teachers are also a component of the SEPI program.
 
Other progressive community colleges are increasing and initiating new dual-credit partnerships and arrangements. For example, Waubonsee Community College will soon launch a reduced tuition rate program to encourage more dual-credit enrollment opportunities for high school students to attend courses on-campus. Finally, the most aggressive version of an “early start” program would have high school students earning 30 college credit hours through Advanced Placement (AP) and dual credit, resulting in a “1+1+2 Pathway,” one year of college credit earned during high school, plus one year at the community college and two years at the senior institution. Such partnership arrangements would clearly and significantly reduce the overall cost to completion. Thus, high school and community college partnerships can provide early college success and cost savings for our future teachers. The coursework gets them acting and thinking like college students and is a powerful complement to the Educators Rising program, which gets them thinking like teachers.

Pathways to Degree Completion and Initial Licensure
As mentioned previously, a significant portion of the students who comprise the future pool of educators may be economically challenged. The cost of tuition and possibly room and board for certain paths to initial licensure may be more than daunting. Excessive student loan debt may deter these candidates from pursuing the teaching degree, or as one parent succinctly said to me, “We hope our child can finish college with a monthly car-sized loan payment instead of a mortgage-sized one!”
 
With the factors of access and affordability in mind, here are four discernible pathways with three different cost levels. Data were derived from the website CollegeCalc; for convenience and the sake of illustration, numbers were rounded slightly as follows: one-year average tuition at an Illinois community college = $4,000; one-year average tuition at a college or university = $18,000; one-year average room and board for a resident student = $10,000.
 
Pathway 1 — Student begins at their community college, then transfers to a nearby college or university and lives at home. This option leverages both components of the higher education system and would have the lowest overall cost 2($4,000) + 2 ($18,000) = $44,000. It may be the optimal choice for students with extreme financial challenges and/or with familial considerations. Also, starting at the community college avoids admission standard barriers, and developmental course work is available as needed. Pathway 1 is the lowest cost option.

Pathway 2 — Student begins at their community college, then transfers to a college or university as a resident student. This option also leverages both components of the higher education system and offers all the same advantages as Pathway 1. The total estimated cost will increase with the addition of room and board expenses for two years at the transfer institution: 2($4,000) + 2($18,000) + 2($10,000) = $64,000. There is a considerable range, however, associated with the average cost of $18,000 for one year at a college or university for tuition. The public universities fall below the average in the $13–15,000 range, while the private colleges and universities have the greater portion of their range above the average. The range for community college tuition rates is relatively smaller. All that being said, certain choices of universities or lower-priced private institutions can result in a total less than the estimated $64,000 total. Pathway 2 is a mid-priced option.

Pathway 3 — Student selects a college or university and lives at home. As with Pathway 1, it may be the appropriate arrangement for students with familial obligations. Although tuition rates will vary considerably with the institution selected, the cost will be limited to tuition. Utilizing the average rate of $18,000 per year, the estimated total cost is $72,000. That amount is larger than the $64,000 estimated for Pathway 2. However, as explained in Pathway 2, the range of tuition rates is quite large. Therefore, Pathways 2 and 3 are essentially in the same cost bracket, and a student may identify a college or university that keeps them in the $60,000 range for total cost. Pathway 3 is also a mid-priced option.

Pathway 4 — Student selects a college or university in the state and is a resident student. Again, tuition rate will vary considerably, and the cost of room and board must be added to the total. This arrangement would have the highest overall cost: 4($18,000) + 4($10,000) = $112,000. On the low end, a student may select an institution and/or secure financial aid to bring the tuition cost down to $10,000 per year. Even still, estimated total cost is $80,000. Pathway 4 is the highest cost option.
 
A Tale of Two States
It has often been said there are really two states within Illinois: Chicago and the rest of the state. This must be considered when the four above described paths are evaluated by students throughout our considerably large state. For students graduating from community colleges in the Chicago urban/suburban region, there will be many nearby choices for a transfer institution to pursue the lowest-cost Pathway 1 option. Four of the 12 state public universities, Chicago State University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Illinois-Chicago, are all located in this region, along with a plethora of private colleges and universities. Students can select their next institution based on cost, individual preferences, and other factors and continue to live at home if that is a financial and/or familial necessity. Hopefully, students can identify a “best fit” and “best deal” for their circumstances. Furthermore, arrangements already exist in the region by which a college or university recruits transfer students from particular community colleges. For example Aurora University partners with six nearby community colleges for the recruitment of their transfer students. These same characteristics hold true for students when those institutions are chosen for four years by a “homebound” or location-bound student. Thus, Pathways 1 or 3 are viable options for students living in the Chicago metro area.
 
There are, however, crucial teacher shortages in the vast rural regions of the state. These areas have community colleges but are not rich in other institutions of higher education. Therefore, Pathways 1 and 3 may not be viable options for students living in these areas. A cursory examination of an Illinois map reveals that a state university can be more than an hour’s drive from several points. The fundamental paradigm of the community college system was that every resident of the state is no more than one-hour driving distance from the closest community college campus. This paradigm can be applied to make state universities accessible so that the lowest-cost Pathway 1 option is available to students living in the “other Illinois.”
 
Partnerships create Pathways: Let the University Come to You
What is proposed may be described as a “new-old” idea. In the late-1970s, Illinois State University (ISU) sent its College of Education faculty approximately 60 miles north from its main campus to Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC) in Oglesby. Students who had already earned the associate degree were able to take the full sequence of ISU junior and senior education courses at IVCC, thus completing their teacher preparation and earning a baccalaureate degree at home. Students from this special partnership quickly filled faculty vacancies in the local school districts.
 
This model can be leveraged to create Pathway 1 partnerships and directly address the teacher shortage in the state’s rural areas.
 
To start, it is recommended that the eight public state universities not located in the Chicago urban/suburban region partner with a public community college at which they would offer education courses leading to the baccalaureate and initial licensure. When one examines a map it is evident that areas of rural Illinois are more than an hour’s driving distance to a state university, but a community college partner can be identified that is 60 miles or so from each of the state universities. The table below presents this initial list of proposed partners:.
 
By reaching out and partnering with a “distant” community college, the universities are extending Pathway 1 access to students in the more isolated rural areas of the state where teacher shortages are pronounced. Through such a plan, nearly every student in the state who wants to become a teacher will have a reasonably accessible and affordable option. This proposal is the “grow your own” paradigm to the maximum, and it is needed to effectively address the critical teacher shortages in the less densely populated rural areas of the state. See map, page 31.
 
Candidates may continue to live at home and avoid room and board expenses. This optimal accessibility and affordability will also attract non-traditional students who are homebound but interested in becoming teachers.
 
For the eight partner universities (see proposal in the table below), it is assumed that the courses delivered at the partner community college are additional sections that would not otherwise be offered and would be welcomed by the Colleges of Education which have experienced flat or declining enrollment in the past several years. It will be challenging to offer the wide variety of education courses needed for the different licensures. For example, secondary education majors need considerable course work in their subject matter. However, online coursework can help to alleviate this condition.
 
The ISC/IVCC example of a creative Pathway 1 community college/university partnership for teacher preparation was cited from the past. There is also a contemporary example of this arrangement. In the fall of 2019, Elgin Community College (ECC) in partnership with Northern Illinois University (NIU) launched its Elgin Community College Cohort 2+2 with 15 students. Having completed an associate degree at ECC, these students are now enrolled full-time in junior-level education classes taught by NIU faculty at the ECC campus, working towards a B.S. in Elementary Education with Bilingual/ESL Endorsement. Even though ECC is less than an hour’s drive from NIU’s main campus in DeKalb, the advantages of this Pathway 1 option are attracting participants, who upon completion, will help to fill teacher vacancies in the Elgin region.
 
The present proposal should best be seen as a starting point. Upon more detailed analysis of teacher shortages from ISBE data, the list of proposed community college sites could change. Also, the eight public institutions were offered as starting candidates because of their size and larger faculty resources. Other colleges or universities can step up and become a partnership institution if there is interest and resources are available. Also, the partnership paradigm may have value and applicability in other areas of the state where access and affordability challenges are particularly pronounced, as with the NIU and ECC program.
 
Conclusion
In summary, a comprehensive and integrated human resource management strategy is needed to meet the current teacher shortage of teachers in the state’s K-12 system. Fortunately, all the resources to address this challenge are available. A sufficiently large and more diverse crop of teacher candidates can be recruited in the states’ high schools through a statewide Educators Rising program. Furthermore, these future teachers can get an early start on their college work through dual-credit partnerships between community colleges and their district high schools.
 
To increase access and affordability, creative partnerships between community colleges and senior institutions can provide the most cost-effective pathways for these students to pursue teacher preparation/initial licensure. Finally, the mentors to groom these future teachers for success and retention are available through funding and re-establishing the New Teacher Mentoring program.
 
Illinois is a great state, rich in resources, and capable of meeting the current shortage. 

William “Bill” Marzano holds an Ed.D. in post-secondary curriculum and instruction from Illinois State University. He is a former community college instructor at Illinois Valley Community College and administrator at Waubonsee Community College. Between those careers, he served as a senior human resource manager in the private sector. Now retired, he had extensive experience with dual-credit high school partnerships and senior university partnerships. Resources for this commentary are available at bit.ly/JF20-Jres.