A reader asks if local students are still studying education and if there's been a drop in enrollment in this focus area.
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Question: How many students are choosing the field of education as their major in areas such as elementary education, secondary education, or special education? I'm going to assume that the numbers are down. What do college administrators and deans of the schools of education say are the contributing factors to fewer students choosing to become professional educators?
Answer: The short answer ― it depends on the school.
The Citizen-Times looked into data and reached out to UNC Asheville, A-B Tech, and Western Carolina University.
UNC Asheville had a 75% drop in enrollment in its education program since 2018, according to a UNCA 2022-23 factbook.
In 2018, the university had 95 students enrolled, and in the 2022 school year, 23 students were enrolled.
Education had the biggest drop in enrollment in any program, according to the fact sheet.
The drops appear to be statewide and nationwide, UNC Asheville spokesperson Michael Strysick told the Citizen-Times in an Oct. 26 email.
"As a parent who has been very involved in the education of my own children, I know that being a teacher — and coach and counselor — is a tough job that continues to get more challenging. My heart goes out in gratitude to those who answer this calling to make a difference for good in the lives of our youth," Strysick said.
UNC Asheville is a bit different than other schools, as it has an education department but does not offer education degrees. Rather, students pursue a major or majors and work to earn licensure, according to Strysick.
"I think we all also hope that salary increases and provisions in the recently passed North Carolina biennium budget make teaching a more attractive option financially," Strysick said.
Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College
Community college enrollment differs from traditional four-year universities.
"A-B Tech is the largest higher education institution in WNC, serving over 23,000 students a year, but the type of student varies widely," A-B Tech spokesperson Kerri Glover told the Citizen-Times in an email.
The type of students A-B Tech serves are broken into three categories, academic/curriculum-based, continuing education, and workforce training and adult education.
A-B Tech offers two-year programs, and anyone can attend the community college.
But who studies education?
Tamara Reynolds, the chair of the education department at A-B Tech told the Citizen-Times in an Oct. 25 email that enrollment in early childhood has remained relatively stable.
She attributed the stable enrollment to teachers who are working in licensed child care centers, and who are required to take a certain number of courses.
"We do have two new faculty members and a new 20-student cohort of early childhood students thanks to generous grant funding from both Dogwood Health Trust and the Buncombe County Early Childhood Education and Development Fund," Reynolds said.
The education department offers five degrees and two certificates, three Associate of Applied Science degrees in early childhood, and two teacher prep degrees.
In the 2019-20 school year, 144 students were enrolled in the early childhood education program. The number went up to 148 students in the 2020-21 school year when they added the teacher prep degrees. In the 2022-23 school year, there were 256 students enrolled, according to data from A-B Tech’s Office of Research and Planning.
A-B Tech also has a memorandum of understanding with both Buncombe County Schools and Asheville City Schools.
"Those MOUs allow our students to complete lab hours and observations in the public schools. We also have a network of private child care centers who help our students complete their required observations and practicum hours," Reynolds said.
Western Carolina University
Western Carolina University, a part of the UNC system, currently has 11,628 students enrolled.
Western Carolina University, part of the UNC system, currently has 11,628 students enrolled. Out of these, 6,892 are female and 4,736 are male, according to data collected from WCU.
In the College of Education and Allied Professions, the number of students enrolled has stayed steady over the past five years.
In the 2019-20 school year, 4,280 students were enrolled in education programs. Fast forward to the 2023-24 school year, and there are 4,072 students enrolled, according to data from Western Carolina University.
This school year is the lowest enrollment WCU has had in the program since 2019, but not by a lot.
The College of Education and Allied Professions has 17 graduate degrees and certificate programs available and offers 19 undergraduate degree programs and minors.