top of page

Universities are combatting Alabama's teacher shortage

Students in the Black Belt Teacher Corps Teach for Alabama scholarship program.

Like many states across the country, Alabama faces a shortage of qualified teachers for K-12 schools, and universities in the state are doing their part to remedy the problem.

Since 2010, enrollment in teacher education programs in Alabama has decreased by 40 percent, higher than the national rate of 32 percent.

“Enrollment’s dropped by almost half, so it raises the question of how we get young people interested in teaching at the level that they once were,” said Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of The University of Alabama’s College of Education.

Rural areas are affected most by the shortage, with some rural schools reporting that around 80 percent of their math and science classes are taught by teachers without proper certification, according to the Alabama Teacher Shortage Task Force.

The University of West Alabama introduced the Black Belt Teacher Corps Teach for Alabama scholarship program in response. The program awards scholarships to students who commit to teaching in public schools in the Black Belt region of the state or other rural areas.

The students sign a contract to commit to years of teaching at an approved school based on the dollar amount of funds they receive from the scholarship, with most of them committing to three years. Once employed, they continue to receive mentoring and professional development coaching for their first three years.

Since its first graduating class in 2017, the program has placed 26 certified teachers in high-need schools in 14 counties across Alabama.

“All of my students have remained employed, received excellent evaluations and took on leadership roles in their schools,” said Susan Hester, director of the program. “Administrators always comment on how well prepared the teachers who go through the program are as first-year teachers.”

The University of Alabama’s College of Education has been working with donors to try to similarly create a scholarship for those already teaching in rural areas to get their master’s degrees at UA and then return to their district.

They have also recently partnered with The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s College of Education on a grant to increase the number of teachers with computer science training in Alabama.

Currently, however, UA realizes it need to be better at recruiting and selling the attractiveness of the profession to prospective students. The benefits, short work year and job security are among the notable perks, Hlebowitsh said.

“If you were studying to be a teacher, you would probably have a job, no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about it, when you graduate. You might even have your pick of the job you want,” Hlebowitsh said. “It’s a stunning level of job security that no other job has, and why more people aren’t attracted to it is beyond me.”

Retention also contributes to the shortage, with around 8 percent of teachers leaving the profession each year. Hlebowitsh thinks this can mostly be attributed to personal matters, but pay has an affect for many teachers as well.

“Pay wasn’t a problem at the beginning, but as I got older, it got harder,” said Tommy Bailey, a retired Shelby County teacher. “If I had kids, no way I could’ve survived.”

There have been numerous talks statewide of implementing bonus pays, offering alternative certifications, thinning out coursework and more. However, people need to get on board for any of these ideas to work.

“I think once the story gets told, and gets told persuasively, we’ll find a lot more people interested,” Hlebowitsh said.


bottom of page