Enrollment in Colorado’s K-12 educator preparation programs fell 9 percent last year – the first drop in five years, according to a new report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Students fill a classroom at Metro State in Denver in 2009. Photo metrostaterising.com.
Metro State classroom. <em>EdNews</em> file photo

Additionally, the number of students in teacher prep programs focusing on math dropped by 16 percent, from 505 to 424, and those studying in the special education generalist category dropped by 14 percent from 1,379 to 1,189 students, according to the report.

These two drops in particular caught the attention of Matt Gianneschi, deputy executive director of the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, which reviewed the data Friday. That’s because those are two areas where Colorado has the greatest need.

“That is certainly something for us to monitor,” Gianneschi said, noting that it could be that people with math backgrounds, for instance, are able to land jobs outside the realm of education due to an improving economy.

In fact, Gianneschi said the numbers facing Colorado’s teacher and educator training programs reflect what’s happening in higher ed as a whole – when economic conditions improve, enrollment dips because people are able to get jobs.

“Last year we had historic enrollment growth in teacher prep programs,” he said.

The report also shows that a majority of students – 76 percent – enrolled in the programs at the state’s public and private colleges and universities are white, and 76 percent are women, two figures that won’t surprise anyone working in K-12 education today.

Meanwhile, the number of candidates seeking an administrator or superintendent license dropped by 62 percent from 53 to 20 from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Since 2008, enrollment in this area has dropped by more than half.

Gianneschi said that’s because there are alternative routes to becoming an administrator.

“You are not required to have that license to be a superintendent,” Gianneschi said. “Fewer people are seeking it at this point.”

Overall enrollment in the state’s educator preparation programs, which include candidates seeking to become school principals and district superintendents, was 12,003 in 2011-12.

The largest number of candidates enrolled in elementary education, special education, culturally and linguistically diverse education and social studies.

The report, shared Friday with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, will be submitted to the General Assembly. State law requires the department to provide data annually on the preparation programs, including enrollment and graduation statistics. Read the full report.

“The fact that some of these numbers are down is alarming,” said commissioner Happy Haynes, who’s also a member of the Denver school board. “This is certainly going in the opposite direction” from what’s needed in the state’s schools.