Manchester sophomore Chelsea Fox, an education major, says she and her friends talk a lot about whether going into teaching is a good move.
Theres the bleak job situation, she said. And looming changes to teacher pay. And a sense among the public that teaching is not the noble profession it once was.
But despite the challenges, Fox is following her dream.
I love children, she said. Im one of those people who wants to make a difference in a childs life.
According to area colleges and universities, fewer of Foxs peers are making the same decision.
Deans and administrators at six local colleges reported a drop in undergraduate education majors this fall. The numbers vary from slight to significant.
At IPFW, for example, the number went from 1,020 education majors last fall to 822 this fall – a 19 percent drop. At Huntington University, the number went from to 188 to 178 – a 5 percent decline.
Even Ball State Universitys Teachers College, a nationally ranked program, saw its undergraduate enrollment drop from 1,491 last year to 1,368 this year. At the same time, Ball State and other Indiana colleges are seeing an increase in graduate education programs, as students rush to get advanced degrees before legislative changes take effect limiting the pay and benefits long associated with further education.
While some fear the number of undergraduate education majors will continue to decline, others are hopeful they will bounce back once the economy rebounds.
David Finley, vice president of academic affairs at Trine University, attributes his schools decline in undergraduate education majors to the economy. Students considering teaching are aware school districts are receiving less state funding and are anticipating teacher layoffs to balance the budget.
He said Trine had 127 education majors this fall – an 18 percent decrease from last year.
Weve noticed it, he said of the decline. Because the jobs arent there today, they are deciding to pursue other interests.
Clayton Whistler, a sophomore at Trine, is one of the students who decided to abandon his hopes of becoming an educator. He wanted to be a high school teacher, but by the time he got to college, he had changed his mind, deciding to become a physical therapist instead.
The job market was closing, he said. And I thought I would change (my major) so I could get a job when I graduate.
His mother, a retired teacher, condoned the move.
When the job outlook for teachers improves, Trines Finley is confident the numbers will bounce back.
But some of his peers are less confident.
Professor Michael Slavkin, director of teacher education at Manchester College, said the number of undergraduate majors at his college has decreased 20 percent in the past five years. This fall, the school had 195 undergraduate education majors, down from 244 the year before.
Slavkin said the economy played a role but wasnt the only factor in the decline.
He said the Daniels administration, along with Superintendent of Education Tony Bennett, have been outwardly aggressive in their disdain for teachers. The discourse became particularly caustic during the recent legislative session, he said, when lawmakers passed legislation limiting collective bargaining rights, linking teacher pay to test scores and other measures.
Obviously, the current political environment around education probably makes (the field) less appealing, Slavkin said. I think this is the most important job we have to offer college students. I think its the most valuable. And yet, I think I would probably second-guess right now if my children were to come to me and say they wanted to be teachers. Its been a hard couple of years in Indiana for educators.
Professor Terrell Peace, director of teacher education at Huntington University, agreed.
My profession has been downplayed, and theres been a lot of criticism about the quality, he said. Its not a popular profession, and its not an easy profession. If people go into the profession seeing that, I think it speaks to a higher level of commitment.
Not everyone agrees that political discourse or legislative aims are responsible for dwindling numbers of education majors.
Joseph Cortes-Gurule, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Education, said his department hopes to elevate the profession – not tear it down.
Were doing exactly the opposite of denigrating teachers, he said. We want to reward great teachers. Thats what this last session aimed to do.
But Fox, who could be in a classroom in a few years after finishing her studies at Manchester, said the changing state laws are a concern. But before she even worries about the pressures of the job, shell need to actually get one. So far, shes staying optimistic.
Some people are worried because there arent a lot of jobs, she said. But if we stay in the field, there is always another option. We could do tutoring or something until we find a job.