Oklahoma Program Retains Teaching Majors for Districts in Need

The University of Oklahoma is offering a special program aimed at teaching majors with the goal of enticing them to not only stay in state after graduation, but to serve the districts that need quality instructors most. OU’s Debt-Free Teachers Program pays $5,000 each year after for up to four years after graduation if students commit to teaching children in high needs areas throughout the state.

The Debt-Free Teachers Program was created in 2014 as a response to graduates leaving the state directly following degree completion. Just 45 percent of education majors work in state upon college graduation. Even out-of-state students who chose to attend school in Oklahoma are leaving after graduation. Between 2010 and 2014, 18 percent of Oklahoma higher education graduates originated from out-of-state, with only a quarter remaining to serve Oklahoma schoolchildren.

Mississippi and South Dakota are the only other two states with lower teacher salaries than Oklahoma, where the average pay in 2015 was $44,628. Oklahoma has been experiencing a teacher shortage since 2012. As of July 2015, the Oklahoma Department of Education has had to issue 1,060 emergency certifications allowing new teachers extensions to meet teacher certification requirements and complete relevant training. These emergency certifications are only approved if a district cannot find licensed candidates. In 2012, only 30 emergency certifications were granted, illustrating the sharp decline in qualified educators.

With Oklahoma offering lower teaching salaries and experiencing large teacher shortages, a solution had to be made to counter this issue, in hopes of retaining quality educators. The Debt-Free Teachers Program seems to be a viable solution to keep students in state and working in the districts that need it most.

There has been a huge demand from students wanting to participate in the OU Debt-Free Teachers Program. There are 37 students currently enrolled, with 8 graduating May 2016 and 9 already serving in rural or inner-city schools throughout Oklahoma.

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