Months ago, as they prepared for this fall semester, leaders within the NC State College of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program had two paramount goals. They wanted to increase access to the program for students across North Carolina and to increase diversity within its student body to better reflect that of the state’s public school children.
In that effort, they took the program online to expand its reach. They also added 18 new scholarship awards made possible through the College of Education Excellence Fund.
This year, Dean Mary Ann Danowitz allocated $34,000 from that fund to provide scholarships to incoming MAT students. The College of Education Excellence Fund and other broad funds like it at NC State are made possible through donor support. They give a dean, for example, discretion in directing funds toward the most critical needs and priorities of their college.
Use of these funds for the MAT program resulted in the College of Education Dean’s Excellence Scholarships, awarded to 18 MAT students for the fall 2020 semester, said Micha Jeffries, director of the MAT program. Most of the scholarships were valued at $2,000, with a couple of students who also benefit from another program receiving $1,000.
“The primary purpose is to reduce the total cost of admission, and make the program accessible and affordable,” said John Lee, associate dean for faculty and academic affairs, interim head of the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development, and professor of social studies education. “For students who are perhaps first-generation [college students in their families], or who are considering the teaching profession in North Carolina, where base salary is in $37,000 to $38,000 range if you’re not in a big urban area, this helps offset some of the difficulties they may face with being able to afford the program.”
The MAT program is an accelerated teacher licensure program that leads to both an initial teaching license and a master’s degree in as little as a year-and-a-half if the student is enrolled full-time. It was designed just over a decade ago to create an alternative pathway for nontraditional students to become teachers, Jeffries said. This group might include adults choosing to return to school to enter the education field as a new career path, for example.
Increasing Diversity: Teachers Reflecting a Changing Student Population
At the same time, NC State is part of a larger effort statewide to diversify the teacher workforce, according to Lee.
“As the people’s university at NC State, we have a responsibility to address the biggest challenges we face in our state, and this is one of them,” he said.
Following an intentional focus on diversity in recruitment this year, this fall’s incoming student population in the MAT program is about 20 percent students of color — an increase from years past — including four who identify as American Indian. There were previously no American Indians enrolled in the program.
The population of North Carolina’s public schools is changing, according to Anna Egalite, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy and Human Development in the College of Education, who has researched diversity in the K-12 education workforce, its impact and significance.
White students are often in the minority, she said, with a combined Black, Asian and Latino population now making up the majority, nationwide.
“You don’t see the same trends in the teacher workforce,” Egalite said. “In the 1980s and still today, approximately 80 percent of teachers are white — we actually have made very little progress in that regard.”
Representation matters, she added. Research shows it’s important to have role models who reflect the entire student population — both providing someone all students can look up to and serving as an affirmation and motivation that they too can earn a college degree and have a successful career.
There are other direct effects as well, Egalite said. Teachers who reflect the student population can serve as mentors and advocates for students of color. And, while research has shown bias in expectations for students of color, there is evidence this bias might be mitigated by having more teachers of color.
“Children rise to the level of expectation that you have for them,” Egalite said. “Some teachers actually do have differing expectations for students and, unfortunately, it can coordinate with race, studies have shown.”
Reducing Costs to Make College More Accessible
This year’s MAT class recorded about a 20 percent increase in enrollment, with 202 total students now enrolled. The growth was due in part to a marketing and advertising initiative to reach communities the program had not reached before. A move to all online courses also broadened access to students across the state, Lee said. While NC State as a whole has moved to online courses this fall due to COVID-19, the MAT program’s online option is a long-term plan that will continue to offer courses to students across North Carolina.
The online program meant a reduction in tuition costs at the same time — the total cost for the program is now about $13,000, Lee said.
The new scholarship offerings attracted more students who might otherwise feel the program was beyond their reach, reducing their total cost by about 15 percent when they received a scholarship, he said.
Many MAT students are career changers, Jeffries pointed out. They may have been downsized or laid off, or are making a career shift for other reasons. In the education field, they may be looking at a loss of income or a pay cut already as they enter the program, so cost is a key factor in their decision to pursue the degree, she said.
“By offsetting the costs, we’re going to be able to prepare more teachers,” Jeffries said. “The online program streamlined everything and made it more affordable, but given the current state of our economy, these scholarships make it even more attractive.”
The MAT program can now support areas in the state where there may not be an easily accessible university as well, Jeffries said.
“We will continue to be the leader in producers of STEM teachers, and with the shift to online, we’re also producing teachers who can teach in counties across the state of North Carolina,” Jeffries said. “We’re able to impact more teachers across North Carolina.”