Posted at: 10/30/2013 10:59 PM
By: John Doetkott
(ABC 6 News) -- Riverland Community College is launching a new partnership with Winona State University that will allow students to get a bachelor's degree in elementary education without leaving Riverland’s Austin campus.
Experts said the program may be coming at the perfect time as Minnesota faces a growing teacher shortage.
At an open house on Wednesday night, Riverland welcomed students who they hope will become the nation's next generation of teachers.
"They're excited to see me when I get there on Thursdays and Fridays,” student Jessica Schuster said about the kids she helps teach. “They put a smile on my face and I feel like I do the same for them. It's just nice to feel that appreciation."
In only her first year in the program, students like Schuster will likely be in high demand as the number of teachers in Minnesota is dropping while the number of students is expected to grow significantly over the next ten years.
Already the state said it has a shortage of teachers in at least 20 different categories, with many districts reporting an extreme shortage of math and science teachers who school officials said are harder to attract.
"Out in the private sector, first of all, they can make a lot more money,” said Sheila Berger, principal of Sumner Elementary School in Austin where the new Riverland students will train. “Secondly, you have to attract them to this rural area, so a couple of things feed into why we have some turnover in some of those areas."
Experts said just retaining teachers can be difficult with some estimates showing 50 percent of teachers switch districts or leave the profession entirely within their first five years.
Many leave because of low pay, stress, or other factors, but those studying to become teachers said they're ready to take on the challenges in hopes of making a difference.
“Just making that connection with a child, it's really worth it to me,” Schuster said. “I think it's worth it just to make that connection and to know that you're important in their lives."
Elementary education students like Schuster might actually have the hardest time finding a job with the state currently seeing a surplus of those teachers.
But with more and more schools switching to all-day kindergarten, experts said those jobs will likely be in higher demand over the next few years as well.