School of Education sees dramatic enrollment decrease over years, trend seen across nation

School of Education sees dramatic enrollment decrease over years, trend seen across the nation. (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)
School of Education sees dramatic enrollment decrease over years,
trend seen across the nation. (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)

The School of Education at Oswego State experienced a 43 percent decline in enrollment between the fall semesters of 2010 and 2014, according to a report published by the school.

According to the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment, 1,650 undergraduate students were enrolled in the school in 2010, as opposed to 953 in 2014. By contrast, SUNY Oswego’s undergraduate enrollment included 7,377 students in 2010, and 7,193 students in 2014.

The School of Education’s decline in enrollment is consistent with a nationwide trend of decline in completion of education programs. According to an annual report compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of four-year degrees granted from institutions of higher education rose consistently between 1970 and 2012 in every discipline except for education. The number of education degrees conferred peaked in 1970 to ‘71, but has since fallen.

By contrast, the total number of degrees granted between 1981 and 1985 rose from 935,140 to 987,823, a roughly 5.4 percent increase, and has since been consistently on the rise, according to the same NCES report. Bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, as well as social and behavioral sciences, were granted to more than double the number of students in those fields versus those in education. From 2011-2012, 295,221 humanities degrees were given out nationwide, as opposed to 105,785 education degrees granted in the same year.

It is worth noting that the steepest decline in education degrees occurred between 1981 and 1985. In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education, a commission consisting mostly of members of academia, published a report titled “A Nation At Risk,” which suggested the U.S. Department of Education consider implementing “seven-hour school days, as well as a 200 to 220-day school year.” The same report also suggested that teacher salaries be “professionally competitive, market-sensitive and performance based.” The report also called for teachers that could demonstrate, “competence in academic discipline.”

Education degrees actually rose between 2001 and 2005, inconsistent with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, with 1,780 more education majors graduating between those four years, according to the NCES. The act is a Bush-era law which offered more federal aid for schools in exchange for progress measurement in public schools, as well as punishment for supposedly incompetent teachers. The law was passed in 2002.

The reaction of teachers toward No Child Left Behind was negative, and teachers’ unions actively lobbied Congress to restrict or prevent passage of the measure. However, according to a report published by the University of Michigan and the University of Virginia, there was an increase in the average mathematics and reading scores of fourth graders nationwide. The study noted that this increase was dramatic even when compared to figures from years during which states, and not the federal government, enacted programs of teacher accountability.

Common Core testing standards have similarly received outcry from many teachers, who believe that the curriculum demanded by the Common Core is unrealistic for effective learning. The outcry has come from teachers and parents alike, and New York as well as a number of other states began offering the option for children to “opt-out” of high-stakes testing if parents were uncomfortable.

“High-stakes Testing,” combined with the loss of tenure efficacy in the collective bargaining agreements of many teachers’ unions has eroded the idea of teaching as a stable career, and given many prospective teachers a grim outlook on their professional futures.

“There are no teaching jobs,” said Oswego State sophomore Danielle Harsch. “Teachers with tenure fill up many teaching positions. But honestly, I don’t think pay is a factor. It’s not guaranteed that you’ll go into a job making $80,000 or something plus per year.”

That the starting salary for teachers is lower than other professions.  According to a study published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the national average starting salary for teachers is $30,307. Computer programmers start at an average annual salary of $43,645, and may be offered stock or bonus incentives unavailable to teachers. Their salaries are also considerably more likely to increase more dramatically over time. The median salary for programmers is $74,280 per year, as opposed to $55,050 per year for teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). According to similar BLS data, teachers make roughly 60 percent of the salary of similarly qualified professionals (those with a four-year bachelor’s degree).  Weekly teacher salaries have also grown by only 0.6 percent, according to the 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Compensation Survey. By comparison, most other professions occupied by college graduates have seen a weekly wage growth of 12 percent since 1996.

This gap in salary makes teaching an unattractive option for students, especially when considering the possibility of student debt and the state of the American economy. For many, the cost-benefit analysis simply doesn’t add up.

“It just doesn’t make sense, if you’re going to pay for school, to get a job where you’re paid less for doing the same work,” said freshman student Liam Kirschner, a business administration major.

The bureau also reported a negative occupational outlook for teachers. The number of graduates or other professionals entering the teaching profession is expected to rise by 6 percent between 2012 and 2022, a rate of growth categorized by the bureau as “slower than average.”

Many incoming students may be ill-prepared for their subject matter, especially in STEM subjects, and the practicum and competency-evaluation portions of an education degree may make program completion difficult for many students. Without a satisfactory score on competency exams, prospective teachers may be denied a certification in their state until they can take the exam again.

According to a report published by the National Math & Science Initiative, roughly 44 percent of high-school graduates in 2013 were prepared for college-level math, and 36 percent of graduates in the same year prepared for college-level science courses.  The U.S. ranks lower than other nations on test scores in similar fields. The U.S. has scored 31st in math since 2009, and 24th in science, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Thus, it is unclear if those seeking to teach STEM courses on an elementary or secondary level may even meet the basic qualifications for their coursework.

Administrators from Oswego State’s School of Education were not able to be reached for comment by press time.