The University of New Mexico is the recipient of two new state scholarships designed to address the shortage of teachers at all grade levels of the New Mexico public educational system.
A study by New Mexico State University estimated that there were 644 teacher vacancies in New Mexico in 2019. The study hypothesizes that some factors contributing to this shortage include a comparatively low starting wage for educators and the dependence of teaching positions on student test scores in the state.
The teacher shortage has forced several school districts to resort to urgent measures, such as contracting foreign teachers to fill long-time vacancies.
The Grow Your Own Teacher (GYOT) and Teacher Preparation Affordability (TPA) scholarships were passed by the New Mexico legislature in its spring 2019 session.
The scholarships are similar but have distinctly different requirements. GYOT requires the recipient to have worked as an Educational Assistant for 2 years. TPA requires the recipient to be working toward their first teaching certification. Both require New Mexico residency and eligibility through the FAFSA and provides $6,000 per year for up to 5 years.
"The really exciting part about this (is)... these two are stackable," said Smith Frederick, the operations director at the Center for Student Success. "If you happen to be that rare individual who has two years of EA and it’s your initial licensure, we can stack that right on top."
According to Frederick, the needs of a teaching degree — such as student teaching and classroom experience — are often time-intensive, making "it almost impossible for most of our students to work the part-time job they need and do their schoolwork."
Previously, it was common for students to delay their degree to work and save money.
"We have yet to have a single student withdraw due to that issue this semester," Frederick said.
When asked how the scholarships will affect enrollment in the College of Education, Alyssa Gonzales, a student recruitment specialist, said she expects an increase in enrollment that will begin in the spring, but anticipates new faces to come in the fall.
The current impact of the scholarships can be measured by how many previously enrolled students are taking advantage of the new funding. According to Gonzales, in the 2019 fall semester, GYOT has been awarded to four students for around $11,000, and the TPA has been awarded to 47 students for around $124,000. There are several students who are eligible for both and receive up to $12,000 a semester.
"UNM did receive a million dollars — which we’re not near — but the fact that we are able to award this many students this quickly, I think is phenomenal," Gonzales said.
The scholarships do not mandate that recipients stay in New Mexico to teach — a method other occupations have used to ensure the local area is served.
"One of the biggest challenges we have is, oftentimes, our students can make significant differences in salaries: It can be as much as $13,000 (more) just by crossing a state line," Frederick said.
Frederick said the new state measure to increase teacher salaries will also help in making New Mexico more competitive in attracting teachers.
"Starting salary until this year was about $32,000 to $33,000 depending on the district... The legislative change that the governor championed this year, I believe it will make a significant difference," Frederick said.
The requirement of New Mexico residency for the scholarships is aimed at encouraging candidates who want to stay and teach in the state, said Frederick.
Interim Dean of the College of Education Deborah Rifenbary said many of the target teachers for these scholarships come from underrepresented populations within the state, a result of the landmark lawsuit Yazzie/Martinez vs. State of New Mexico. The 2018 decision found that the state had failed to sufficiently fund programs for "low-income, Native American, English Language Learners and students with disabilities," according to the brief found on the New Mexico Poverty Law Center website.
The ability of people from underserved communities to get an education as a teacher and go back to serve their communities as an educator is an important consideration of the scholarships, according to Frederick.
"The two pathways (GYOT and TPA) come from the third, which is the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling, which quite frankly I think is about ready to change the landscape of New Mexico education," Frederick said.
"There is an acknowledgment and an understanding that those students need people who are aware and can implement a culturally relevant curriculum," Rifenbary said.
Gonzales said an improved pipeline from the branch campuses to the main campus is one way underserved and rural populations within the state can have community members successfully achieve educational degrees.
Dean Rifenbary said UNM is working on other measures to attract teachers to New Mexico. The group Educators Rising — which works with high school students — is an important way young people become interested in teaching careers, according to Rifenbary.
"Our efforts are ongoing... We keep moving as quickly and as responsibly as possible," Rifenbary said.
"Being eligible for $6,000 on top of a lottery scholarship and others makes a huge difference," Frederick said.
For more information on the scholarships, visit the College of Education's website.
Colin Peña is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @penyacolin