New Investment Expected to Increase Diversity and Add Numbers to Denver Metro’s Teacher Workforce
January 27, 2023
The University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education (CUE) is uniquely positioned to help fill the teacher shortage in the Denver Metro area. Since 2000, the center has been enrolling and graduating paraeducators working in local schools, offering a hybrid program that pairs bachelor’s-level coursework with clinical teaching experience that starts the first day of the program. CUE's educator programs have consistently high graduation and placement rates (over 90%) and its students—70% of whom are people of color and 94% of whom are first-generation—bring diversity to Colorado’s educator workforce.
It's this success that brought Maycomb Capital and BDTcatalyst, two impact investors, to the table. In 2022, the Community Outcomes Fund at Maycomb Capital committed $600,000 over five years to increase CUE’s output of highly skilled and trained teachers. The fund’s flexible, mission-aligned loan is supported by a guaranty from BDTcatalyst, BDT & MSD Partners’ impact investing portfolio, which focuses on high-impact, place-based companies and organizations with the goals of unlocking capital and driving transformational change.
The $600,000 investment is intended to help address severe teacher shortages as districts in Colorado and across the nation struggle to recruit and retain teachers, particularly teachers of color. The funding will provide the resources necessary to help develop a pay-for-outcomes teacher recruitment model in the Denver Metro area. CUE currently graduates approximately 30 students every year, over 90% are placed in Colorado school districts. The anticipated impact by the end of the 2026-27 academic year is approximately 250 new full-time teachers and added diversity to Colorado’s educator workforce that will better support outcomes for all students, particularly students of color.
“Many programs of CUE’s quality simply don’t exist or are so small they are unable to truly make an impact in the needs of the education workforce ecosystem.”
— Eliza Harding
CUE has shown a positive track record in serving underserved, lower-income, first-generation, and BIPOC populations that other programs of its kind have not experienced success with. Meanwhile, school districts are struggling to find talent within those same demographics.
“Many programs of CUE’s quality simply don’t exist or are so small they are unable to truly make an impact in the needs of the education workforce ecosystem,” said Trendlines CEO, Eliza Harding. “Furthermore, there is a lack of funding and support to grow high-quality programs that serve underserved/underrepresented communities and ensure graduates enter livable-wage jobs post-graduation.”
Trendlines is a Denver-based local workforce development accelerator that has partnered closely with CUE to secure the investment and provide strategic supports to ensure the center’s sustainability and growth over the investment period.
“Other paraprofessional-to-teacher models limit access only to those paraprofessionals who hold a bachelor’s degree,” said Jared Stallones, dean of UNC’s College of Education and Behavioral Sciences. “CUE is unique in that it meets students where they are, customizing education plans to move them to a degree and teaching credential from whatever point they start. This approach represents what school-university partnerships should be about; building programs that increase access and result in personal and professional growth. Such programs change lives and transform communities. This is what drew social capital investors to partner with CUE and the schools and communities it serves.”
Managed by Trendlines, the funding is a five-year investment with annual payments. It provides a foundation for what investors hope could become a sustainable model for CUE that can also serve as a national strategy for para-to-teacher pipeline development programs. Trendlines is helping CUE sustainably expand its operations through assistance around recruitment, data systems and performance management.
The loan is repaid on the basis of placement and retention rates after school districts hire and retain CUE program graduates as full-time teachers in their schools. Several school districts have already agreed to partner with the center in this pay-for-outcomes arrangement, including Aurora Public Schools, Cherry Creek Public Schools, Sheridan School District and the Denver School of Science and Technology charter network.
While the pay-for-outcomes model is a departure from how school districts have historically found new teachers, which can involve traveling to and recruiting candidates from other states, it’s something CUE Director Rosanne Fulton has confidence in.
“I believe pay-for-outcomes is absolutely sustainable,” said Rosanne Fulton, director of CUE. “This is a grow-your-own kind of model. We can recruit people into this program who are already working in the schools and then feed them right back into the school systems where they want to serve.”
Fulton attributes the success of CUE’s programs to the strong partnership it already has with schools and school districts, highlighting the unique split-day model that allows students to work half-day as paraeducators in school districts across the Denver Metro area in the morning where they provide one-on-one tutoring, small-group instruction and eventually whole-group lessons, and take classes at UNC’s Denver Center at Lowry campus in the afternoon or evening. This extensive, hands-on experience leads to lower teacher attrition rates as CUE graduates tend to be more invested in the communities where they work and understand the demands of teaching.
“By the time they graduate, CUE students have spent about 3,000-4,000 hours in the schools while they’re earning their degree, which is far more than an average new teacher” Fulton said. “So, they are not only benefiting from the high-quality programming under the umbrella of UNC’s teacher educator programming in their classes, they are learning a lot of other key skills from school district partners, principals, literacy coaches and other school-based personnel.”
Fulton said the new investment will put processes in place that formalize recruiting and placement partnerships with participating districts to ensure the pipeline for teacher candidates is seamless. The agreement also includes metrics that must be met each year, demonstrating growth or maintenance in enrollment, graduation rates and placements at outcomes-based paying metro-Denver area school districts, and funding to hire an assistant director for CUE, who was hired this past November, to provide the additional support needed to help the program expand.
Considering CUE’s proven history of success, Fulton is certain the program has the potential to meet the anticipated growth. Of the thousands of paraprofessionals currently working in Colorado’s largest public school systems, she’s certain there are many who might dream about becoming a teacher.
“I don’t think we need to suffer a teacher shortage, but if we’re going to be successful in meeting the needs of a new and diverse educator workforce, we need to meet them where they are. "
— Rosanne Fulton
“There are people out there already working in our schools who don’t know what their options are to become a teacher, or they don't have the confidence to call and find out,” Fulton said. “I don’t think we need to suffer a teacher shortage, but if we’re going to be successful in meeting the needs of a new and diverse educator workforce, we need to meet them where they are.
“If we can get the partnership right between school districts and schools and higher education, then we have the opportunity to realize the best for our students,” Fulton continued. “There will always be public schools. There will always be really good teachers and principals within those public schools and there will always be a need for the teacher population to reflect the student population.”
For more information about CUE’s educator programs, visit their website or contact Fulton at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is provided and visits are scheduled year-round, and students can apply or enroll at multiple points during the semester.
— written by Deanna Herbert