New bachelor’s degree in education confronts teacher shortage, budget cuts

Published by Robin Bailey on

Scot Headley, dean of instruction for transfer and general education, takes a break from writing UCC’s Grow Your Own Program grant application. Working with Southwestern Oregon Community College’s (SWOCC) Instructional Dean of Career and Technical Education, Dan Koopman, they have developed a bachelor’s degree program geared toward education.
Robin Bruns / The Mainstream

Starting September 2023, UCC plans to offer an educator-focused bachelor’s degree program in partnership with George Fox University, a private nonprofit institution based in Newburg, Oregon. Scot Headley, dean of instruction for transfer and general education, states the program’s necessity: “There’s a severe teacher shortage in Douglas County.”

“There is no place — no university — in Douglas County where aspiring educators can finish teaching degrees. We are the only institution. If people want to pursue teaching (beyond an AAOT), they have to leave,” Headley says.

The partnership would fix this issue.

This spring, only around 30 students are enrolled in education courses, including both K-12 and early education classes. The national shortage of licensed educators gives motivation for these students to graduate and pursue a career in teaching — but many face circumstantial difficulties. “A number of them are place-bound or nontraditional. They can’t leave: they have a family, a job or are older. Many may already be employed at a school in a supporting role,” Headley says.

Headley develops the bachelor’s degree program with help from Southwestern Oregon Community College’s (SWOCC) Instructional Dean of Career and Technical Education, Dan Koopman. Like Douglas, Coos and Curry County — where SWOCC resides — also face a shortage of educators.

Preparation, support for home-grown educators

“We’re almost to the point of starting to recruit students,” Headley says, “but we’ve held off — during the formation of this partnership, there had been discussion with my colleagues in the Education Service District; their Grow Your Own Partnership Grant program was starting a new cycle.”

Grow Your Own programs (GYO) makeup one institutional pillar of a many-tiered attempt by state agencies — like the Educator Advancement Council (EAC), created in response to Senate Bill 182 — to increase educator retention, diversity and scholarships; the mentoring and coaching of educators; and participation in preparatory educator programs.

By 2025, the EAC hopes its GYO programs may usher more students through “affordable, regional career pathways into education, particularly … nontraditional postsecondary students, individuals of color, bilingual/multilingual individuals, and citizens of Tribal Nations.”

In a collaborative effort with the Douglas Education Service District, two separate — yet complementary — GYO Grant Program applications are being written for submission in the 2023–2025 cycle; these are due by May 5. Headley writes UCC’s application while the Douglas ESD writes their own.

“If we are awarded this grant, it will provide scholarship money for students here and at SWOCC. If we aren’t, we’ll proceed (with the bachelor’s program) anyway — but being awarded, I feel, will help us help students with educational expenses,” Headley says.

Developing pathways to local degrees: Affinity groups, dual-credit programs

Headley speaks to the challenges that accompany rural living, especially as a marginalized person. “The culture here is hard. We want students from Douglas County to see a broader face of the world, but it’s difficult,” Headley says. These difficulties reduce the county’s ability to attract and retain quality teachers.

However, the ESD offers a solution. Headley says, “(They) say we need to find our own students, in our own communities, who already know the culture and may want to teach — they might want to make a difference in the lives of young people, but they might not know how. That’s what affinity groups are for.”

In an attempt to facilitate nontraditional students’ entries into education careers, the Douglas ESD and other local school districts have been building a partnership fostering various affinity groups currently led by equity coach Kenneth Wong.

Last summer, the Sutherlin Students of Color Affinity Group led a clean-up of Sutherlin Skate Park: students, ESD staff and community members alike worked together to replace graffiti containing slurs and hate speech with “murals, fresh paint and inspirational quotes,” as well as “a community watch program … to help prevent future vandalism.”

Another arm of the effort includes dual-credit college classes focused on education; Roseburg High School offers some which Headley says involve “practicum work: students going to local elementary schools and taking on teaching-assistant–type roles.”

Headley, who has a background in professional education and started his career as a high school teacher, supports the ESD’s effort to recruit Douglas County students for careers in local education. “Let’s get people that already enjoy our region — that want to stay here — and let’s help them; let’s get them professional preparation to be a teacher,” he says.

Timeliness of George Fox bachelor’s degree program

Headley’s 2023 work on the new bachelor’s degree program partnership with George Fox University follows UCC’s 2022 partnership with Bushnell University, which offered students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology on campus.

In a post-pandemic era, educators face unique challenges: “The adjustment to remote learning came with a cost; a lot of the older and more experienced folk left the field,” Headley says.

During teaching shortages, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC) outlines a method for provisional or emergency licensure: “Under certain circumstances, (the set of rigorous requirements to obtain an Initial Teaching license and endorsement in a teacher’s specialty of choice) can be (waived) and a provisional license can be issued to teachers on a temporary basis.”

Despite their necessity, there exists public concern about the quality and quantity of teachers with provisional licenses in Oregon. Alex Baumhardt, writing for the Oregon Capital Chronicle, said, “An emergency licensed teacher in Oregon can fill a full-time role at one school in a single subject area for up to one year. They are not required to have a bachelor’s degree or any training.”

The Oregon Secretary of State website lists three emergency licensure qualifications: evidence of district sponsorship, a complete background clearance and — potentially — a “resume, official transcripts or other evidence of qualifications if requested.”

Baumhardt’s article gave specific attention to the “more than 130 emergency licensed instructors who don’t have to meet federally mandated standards (which) are teaching students with disabilities,” who also “represent a quarter of all emergency teachers working in schools.”

“Emergency licensed teachers … filling in as special education instructors” could be “potentially violating (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act),” which is supposed to ensure “that children with disabilities are given an appropriate public education equal to that of their peers without disabilities, including equal class time and access to qualified teachers,” Baumhardt said.

Ways and Means Committee meets, discusses budget

Friday, April 21 the Oregon Ways and Means Committee roadshow gathered at Jacoby Auditorium to hear local community members “provide their input on priorities for the upcoming biennial budget which will fund schools, public safety and other programs and services.”

State Representative Christina Goodwin, in a radio interview with KQEN, said, “(The Committee) is there to listen to testimony about capital infrastructure asks (addressed) to the state… (Then Representatives) will submit our top three priorities, and we will persuade Ways and Means to fund these capital improvement projects.”

Jim Teece, Vice President of the Southern Oregon University Foundation Board of Trustees, gave testimony to state representatives on Friday. Teece said, “My job, in my community, is very similar to your job, in the state… I have learned, over the years… if I fund the majority of my dollar — even by 1% — to education and economic development, then I perpetually fund the future.”

Teece introduced himself as a representative of business in Southern Oregon, being involved with companies like the Southern Oregon Business Journal and Umpqua Broadband. “I’m here today to not only ask that you invest in public higher education in Oregon and approve the fund of 1.05 billion dollars for public universities,” Teece said, “…(but) I’m asking that you always fund education and economic development first. It’s how we’re going to fund the problems that we face as a state today. It will grow the tax base in the future, and it will grow all of the support services that we need over time.”

Upon leaving the roadshow event, former UCC Accessibility Services coordinator and current Douglas ESD transition network facilitator Les Rogers says, “There were students from U of O, SOU and other colleges with signs (saying) to fund schools and colleges.”

“I told some of them as we left (that) I was sorry for how we haven’t supported their generation with adequate funding for education,” Rogers says. “They deserve better.”

Reductions, kicker-created cuts: “Schools are facing a crisis”

In March, the Joint Committee on Ways and Means released their 2023–2025 Co-Chair budget framework. Following this, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reported, “Education advocates widely panned the legislative proposal, saying it doesn’t do enough to fund K-12 education and universities… (the) executive director of the Oregon School Boards Association said… (school) districts project widespread cuts in programs and staff.”

Quoted in the Chronicle, Nagi Naganathan — president of Oregon Institute of Technology — says, “Our students, both current and future, have been hit hard by the pandemic. They require more wraparound and behavioral health services, stronger academic advising, greater financial aid, and more support than ever on their path toward a degree.”

Around the same time, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis (OEA) produced its quarterly economic and revenue forecast. Senior economist Josh Lehner, writing for the OEA’s news, analysis and outlook blog, said, “The other major impact of (Oregon’s unique kicker law) is on the state budget… The kicker is based on our office’s forecasts made… 2 years in advance. When (the) forecast is off by more than 2%, all of the revenue above the forecast, including the 2%, are credited back to taxpayers.”

“This reduces available resources for policymakers,” Lehner wrote. “As a result, Oregon is unable to provide as many public services as our tax system is designed to provide, even as the kicker is of course part of the tax system itself… The biggest budgetary challenges come when there is a kicker right as an expansion ends and a recession begins… This has been Oregon’s recent experience following both the technology and housing booms in recent decades.”

Looking forward; Importance of partnerships

The uncertain reality of budgetary restriction in the public sector contextualizes UCC’s ongoing collaboration with Douglas ESD to support the George Fox bachelor’s degree program in active development.

Headley says, “That’s why we’re cooperating with the ESD: they’re doing things we’re not. We’re preparing the teachers, but they’re supporting the teachers.”

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