By Jacob Tomberlin, Jamie Sapp and Lucia Conkright | Staff Writers
AUGUSTA, GA – Enrollment growth has altered for departments at Augusta University, especially in the College of Education where they have dropped 24 percent over the last four years.
“If it were an easy thing to isolate for a single cause, it would be an easy thing to fix,” said Zach Kelehear, dean of the College of Education. “So what I’m suggesting to you are some sort of signals or indicators that something is not quite right.”
The explanation for the dropping enrollments is hardly cut and dry, according to Kelehear. He outlined several factors that could be contributing to the dip in numbers.
“Teaching has often struggled to become a front-line decision for a career,” Kelehear said. “We see a lot of people especially at secondary levels who are going to be a doctor, but in case it doesn’t work out, [they’ll] have a drop back as a position to be a teacher.”
The lack of interest in the educational field is only one of the possible problems. According to Kelehear, another possible cause for the dropping enrollments are the changes in teacher education standards.
“The requirements to be a teacher were changed at the state level, which made it more difficult for people to get into teaching,” he said. “Things like certification tests and qualifying exams.”
Kelehear said these changes began around 2013, although they only came of legal consequence in 2015. They did not exactly leave a positive effect on the students in the educational college.
“It’s not a matter of elevating standards, it’s just a lot more hurdles to jump over,” he said. “So that was a little discouraging.”
Rachel Quinton, a sophomore English major seeking a secondary teacher certification, said she believes these changes could be keeping potential teachers away.
“It’s very intimidating to a lot of people,” said Quinton. “Do I really wanna be in school for four and a half years or maybe even five?”
Quinton said that enrollments could have dropped because of the course load.
“I think it’s happening because it’s so many credit hours trying to fit into four years,” Quinton said. “For me to have my major in English and have a secondary education [certificate], at the end of the day it’s about 135 credit hours.”
Kelehear said he believes another possible cause for dropping enrollments could be cultural perception.
“For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the public narrative around teaching became highly politicized and negative,” he said. “There weren’t a lot of people who were advocating going into teaching.”
LaKennda Riddle, a junior early childhood education major, said she attended Georgia Military College and transferred to Augusta University after the fall semester of 2015.
“I took all of my classes at Georgia Military College” she said. “And now, I’m actually into the program here.”
When asked about the enrollment drop of students at Augusta University, Riddle said she feels that it is still in the same numbers, even after the name change of the university.
Despite the challenges, Kelehear remains hopeful for his department.
“We teach classes in school,” he said. “I go out there and roam around the halls and visit wherever. It helps remind me what we’re really about as a college of education. If we’re connected to that, I think enrollments will take care of themselves.”