Teachers as young as 20 could be in classroom as Mississippi struggles with teacher shortage

A new agreement between the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College could put teachers as young as 20 into classrooms and help alleviate the state’s teacher shortage.

On Monday, Southern Miss President Rodney Bennett and MGCCC President Mary Graham signed a memorandum of understanding for what they called an “exciting new academic partnership” that would bring “new strategies” for a contemporary generation of students.

“The state of Mississippi is in the midst of a teacher shortage,” Bennett said. “To help address this need, the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College have collaborated to develop an innovative teacher education partnership program.”

Under the agreement, high school juniors and seniors who complete MGCCC’s Collegiate Academy, where they earn an associate’s degree while attending high school, could then enter the Southern Miss Teachers College program and earn a teaching degree in two years.

Students who complete the program would be eligible for a five-year career level teaching license from the Mississippi Department of Education. The program means students as young as 20 could be taking over as elementary and special education teachers and teacher assistants.

“This new pathway will produce more highly qualified teachers for our state by allowing prospective students to complete a rigorous academic curriculum on a more efficient route to earning licensure,” Bennett said.

Students who complete MGCCC’s Collegiate Academy will meet the same admission criteria used for all Southern Miss teacher education students. They can choose from one of three degree options: elementary education (K-6), that includes a fully online teacher assistant program, special education (K-12) or dual elementary education/special education.

Al Rankins Jr., Mississippi’s commissioner of Higher Education, was on hand for the signing.

”This agreement speaks to the core of what state colleges and universities are all about,” he said. “We’re all about creating access and opportunity for deserving young people in addressing the critical needs of the state of Mississippi.”

Graham said she hoped the new arrangement would go far in helping to alleviate the state’s teachers shortage.

”Over the last five years, there has been a 40 percent decrease in the number of education majors pursuing teaching certificates and teaching degrees,” she said. “So, knowing that was a challenge for the state of Mississippi and knowing we needed qualified teachers in our classrooms — that began the conversation of what can we do at the community college level to help with retention — to help make sure that the persistence of students pursuing a degree — what can we do to make that difference and move that needle?”

Bennett said he looked forward to students taking advantage of the new program and MGCCC and Southern Miss sending new teachers into the job market.

”The University of Southern Mississippi remains committed to meeting the needs of our state by providing high-quality education and research programs,” he said. “I could not be more excited to collaborate with our colleagues at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.”

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