A five year decline in North Carolina students enrolling in teaching programs appears to be turning around. The University of North Carolina system saw a 6 percent uptick in education degree-seekers last year. One college of education is seeing gains in enrollment as students return this fall.
Mary Ann Danowitz is Dean of the College of Education at North Carolina State University. Her school's enrollment grew for both undergraduate and master's programs this year.
"After a trend in which we've been part of around the country of declining enrollments in teacher education, our enrollments are really up this year," Danowitz said, "which across the board, whether you're looking at undergraduates or teachers who are furthering their education, it looks very good for the profession."
North Carolina State is seeing its highest enrollment of undergraduate education majors in five years, after a steady decline in students. That follows a larger trend among UNC system schools, where undergraduate enrollment in education programs declined 30 percent between 2010 and 2015.
Danowitz and other educators credit the past enrollment drop in part to the state legislature ending its Teaching Fellows loan forgiveness program in 2011. She also says policy from Raleigh may be encouraging the small rise in enrollment this year.
"We think it's a turn that in some degree we can attribute to the fact that our elected public officials are talking about the importance of education," Danowitz said.
The new state budget gives teachers a 3.3 percent average raise, with bigger pay changes for teachers earlier in their career. The budget also brings back the Teaching Fellows program in a new form. It will now specifically target teachers licensed in STEM or special education -- which could be good news for North Carolina State, where a majority of first-year new students are STEM-oriented.
Danowitz says the enrollment rise is encouraging, but that the graduates' impact matters more.
"For us, it's getting the teachers out there, having them be exceedingly well-qualified and having them in the highest need counties in the areas where they're needed the most, and right now that's STEM education."