Numbers predict teacher shortage in Minnesota

Amy Olson

As teachers in the baby boomer generation approach retirement age, Minnesota could face a shortage of elementary and secondary instructors.
About 20,000 of the state’s approximately 56,000 teachers will reach retirement age in the next 10 years, according to data from the state’s Department of Children, Families and Learning.
The departure of those instructors, coupled with teachers who leave the profession after working for only a few years, could produce a shortage of licensed instructors, said Debra Hare, associate program director at the Humphrey Institute’s Center for School Change.
The center is studying the potential shortage; Hare said she hopes the study will be released at the end of February.
The initial data suggests that the state will not experience an overall shortage of instructors. Instead, school districts might have difficulty hiring teachers in certain areas, such as math, science and special education, she said.
Districts are having a tougher time recruiting math and science teachers because jobs in private industry pay substantially more, said Mary Bents, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Development.
Bents said the enrollment has risen in the University’s licensure programs, but those increases are not necessarily indicative of beefed up recruiting efforts. The University’s teacher licensing programs are offered only at the post-baccalaureate level.
Since licensed students finish just short of a master’s degree, Bents added that the increase might be the result of teachers returning to the University to finish master’s degrees.
Calculating a potential shortage is more difficult because in addition to retirement, some instructors are leaving the profession before retirement age, Hare said. She said she has seen unconfirmed figures indicating that one-half of all teachers are leaving their professions within five years.
Hare and other colleagues are trying to determine if that figure is accurate and what impact it could have.
While a number of teachers retire each year, the state’s Department of Children, Families and Learning receives 28,000 applications for teaching licensure, including new licenses and renewals.
The state might already be facing a shortage of primary and secondary school teachers, said Robert Clay, education department head at Winona State University.
During the late 1980s and early 1990s, Minnesota had an oversupply of teachers. As a result, fewer students have pursued education degrees during that period, Clay said, meaning there might not be enough teachers to replace the ones who leave.
“We should have increased the number of students five years ago,” Clay said.
Clay said he receives calls each week from school districts inquiring about graduates. In some cases, students are getting licensed and doing their clinical practice, or student teaching, after they have been hired.
In addition to needing full-time teachers, Clay said many districts do not have enough licensed substitute teachers to fill in, forcing some districts to seek provisional licenses or waivers for other professionals with a bachelor’s degree.
But a predicted shortage would not necessarily increase recruiting efforts at the 26 public and private colleges throughout the state that train teachers, Clay said. Winona State’s program would not be able to recruit more students unless the Legislature appropriates more money for teacher education. Nearly 1,000 students pursue elementary and secondary education degrees at Winona State.