UNC Awarded $2.2 Million to Help Recruit, Retain Teachers in Rural School Districts

The Colorado Department of Higher Education has awarded the University of Northern Colorado a $2.2 million grant that will be used over the next five years to help address teacher shortages in Colorado's rural school districts.

The Rural Educator Recruitment and Retention grant will fund the establishment and operation of the Center for Rural Education, which will be led by faculty from UNC's School of Teacher Education and School of Special Education.

The center will focus on the high-need areas of science, mathematics, special education and cultural/linguistic diversity.

With an overarching goal of recruiting and retaining more teachers in the state's 148 school districts classified as rural or small rural, the center will undertake four main initiatives.

To build a self-sustaining pipeline of new rural teachers, the center will develop or expand teacher cadet academies in rural middle and high schools that provide experiences designed to encourage students to consider teaching as a career. Experiences might include teacher education classes for high school and college credit and attendance at future teacher conferences on UNC's campus in Greeley.

The center also will provide financial incentives for teacher candidates in pre-service teacher preparation programs who commit to fulfilling their student teaching requirements in rural Colorado school districts or who commit to teach in rural districts.

To help retain teachers in rural districts, the center will provide ongoing mentoring and professional development support for beginning teachers in rural districts, and supply stipends to rural teachers who make commitments to obtain concurrent enrollment certification or national board teaching certification.

"The Department of Higher Education is looking forward to working with the University of Northern Colorado on this critical project," said Robert Mitchell, Academic Policy Officer for Educator Preparation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education. "We believe this effort will be very helpful in ensuring Colorado's rural communities remain outstanding places to live, work and learn." Mitchell will oversee the grant's administration for CDHE.

A labor market report from the Colorado Office of Economic Development found that the number of annual graduates (1,976) falls well short of the annual number of job openings (3,456) for preschool, primary, secondary and special education teachers.

Designated by the state legislature as the primary institution for undergraduate and graduate teacher education in Colorado and home of the Educational Innovation Institute, UNC has received several national grants in recent years to help address teacher shortages in mathematics, science, special education and cultural/linguistic diversity, including the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs and the National Science Foundation.

UNC faculty and staff who will provide their expertise in the development and operation of the Center for Rural Education include Harvey Rude, Rob Reinsvold, Lori Reinsvold, Corey Pierce, Suzette Youngs, Madeline Milian, Todd Sudeen and Ginny Huang.

Rude, coordinator of UNC's master's degree program in Special Education Administration and director of the Bresnahan-Halstead Center, will serve as the center's temporary coordinator until the full-time position included in the grant is filled.

In developing the center's programs, the UNC group will work with the Colorado BOCES Association, the Colorado Department of Education Rural Education Council, the network of campuses of Colorado Mountain College, Fort Lewis College, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Rural Alliance, the Colorado Association of School Personnel Administrators, and participating local school districts.

Funding for the grant was created through Colorado Senate Bill 16-104, signed in June by Gov. John Hickenlooper.