Building a STEM-Teacher Pipeline
UTeach helps us understand how to:
+ Motivate college students to pursue careers as STEM teachers so they can prepare the next generation of scientists and engineers
+ Establish an effective college program that prepares students to become leaders in the classroom as well as in STEM fields
+ Increase the number of college degrees and certificates awarded in STEM fields in Arkansas
In 2012, the nonprofit group Change the Equation published Vital Signs, a series of briefs featuring numerical summaries of the STEM education pipeline in all 50 states. The researchers found that, over the last decade, the number of college degrees and certificates awarded in STEM fields in Arkansas fell by 20 percent—and those degrees and certificates represented only 8.5 percent of all Arkansas college degrees and certificates.
This decline in postsecondary attainment in STEM fields was particularly alarming considering the total number of degrees and certificates increased by 30 percent during that time. A decrease in qualified STEM graduates not only meant fewer qualified people in the workforce, but fewer qualified K-12 science and math teachers. One clear solution was effective teacher recruitment and training. To borrow a phrase from Change the Equation, it was time for Arkansas to “widen the pipeline.”
UTeach is a national teacher recruitment and training program that Arkansas leaders believe can strengthen STEM education in Arkansas. Part of the STEM Works initiative, UTeach concentrates on college-level STEM education, with the goal of ultimately improving K-12 STEM instruction throughout Arkansas.
UTeach reasons that incoming freshmen need better incentives to pursue teaching careers in STEM subjects, which is why UTeach offers:
- Pathways toward earning a STEM degree and teacher certification within four years
- Teaching experience at real schools as early as freshman year
- Close guidance from master teachers in STEM disciplines
- Scholarships and paid internships.
The importance of students having access to financial resources cannot be underestimated during a time when cost-conscious universities are regularly reminded that STEM programs rank among their highest expenditures.
It is too early to call UTeach an Arkansas success story: Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, executive director of the STEM Coalition, says that it will take four years to see results, as the first participants graduate from college and enter the workforce. However, UTeach’s national figures indicate that its model is effective. 87 percent of UTeach graduates enter teaching; an overwhelming majority are certified to teach math, science, or other STEM subjects. Additionally, more than 65 percent choose to teach in low-income schools.
And UTeach enrollment numbers in Arkansas hint at a promising future. In 2013, 147 students were enrolled in UTeach at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, 130 at the University of Central Arkansas, and 94 at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. More than 6,800 students are participating nationwide. Both the State of Arkansas and UTeach are part of the “100K in 10” movement, a multi-sector program that will train 100,000 STEM teachers over the next 10 years.
Former University of Arkansas Office of Education Policy advisory board member David Rainey points out that UTeach serves schools that do not have the budgets to provide professional development for existing STEM teachers. UTeach is a way to level the playing field for those schools, drawing from a new cohort of STEM teachers who have already received special training and education. “We can recruit teachers directly to come in and run our STEM programs,” he says.