Introduction and summary
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families had to support pre-K to 12 students as they attended school remotely, a necessity that illustrated how invaluable teachers are in a more direct and visceral way than ever before. Research backs up these experiences: Teachers have a greater impact on student achievement than any other in-school factor. The same holds true for their impact on long-term outcomes such as future salaries.1
Unfortunately, there are long-standing educator shortages in particular subject areas and localities.2 Recent teacher polls3 and reports from states and localities4 indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has broadened and deepened these shortages. At the same time, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen.5 These trends have led state policymakers, pre-K to 12 schools, and an array of other organizations to look to nontraditional models for preparing teachers, including alternative certification programs.
Alternative certification programs typically provide individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree with a pathway to certification that does not require them to obtain another degree. In these programs, candidates can become a “teacher of record”—taking responsibility for leading a class and often teaching without direct supervision—before completing all their certification requirements.6 These programs can be run by institutions of higher education (IHEs) or by other organizations.
Alternative teacher certification programs that are not operated by IHEs take various forms, which are discussed below, and have experienced steady growth in enrollment in the past decade. IHE-based comprehensive and alternative teacher preparation programs, on the other hand, have not experienced such growth. Alongside the growth of non-IHE alternative teacher certification programs, concerns have emerged about their efficacy. A better understanding of these programs is needed to ensure that all teachers are prepared to support every student.7 Therefore, in 2020, the Center for American Progress conducted an analysis to identify the types of organizations sponsoring these programs, the role of for-profit organizations in the sector, the states in which these programs operate, and how enrollment varies by race and/or ethnicity and gender.8
CAP found that most students in the non-IHE alternative certification sector are enrolled in programs run by for-profit organizations. The largest of these programs, Teachers of Tomorrow LLC, is a completely online program. Some online, for-profit colleges have been problematic actors in the higher education sector for years,9 so the prevalence of online, for-profit programs in the non-IHE alternative certification sector may be a cause for concern.
A single analysis, however, cannot provide a comprehensive understanding of the non-IHE alternative certification sector, especially because it has grown so quickly in recent years. This report, a partnership between CAP and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, provides an updated analysis and adds historical context by examining sector trends since 2010.
Key findings of this analysis are:
- In the 2018-19 academic year, non-IHE alternative certification programs existed in 33 states and Washington, D.C. In most states, the sector was relatively small; only six states hosted more than 10 programs, and seven states hosted only one program.
- Despite growing enrollment, the number of students completing non-IHE alternative certification programs declined by 10 percent from academic year 2010-11 to 2018-19, illustrating that the expansion of this sector has not alleviated the United States’ teacher shortage.
- Texas has by far the largest non-IHE alternative certification sector, hosting 41 programs that together account for 68 percent of enrollment in educator preparation programs in the state.
- Programs run by for-profit organizations enroll 69 percent of the students in this sector nationally and experienced enrollment growth of more than 48,000 students, or 283 percent, from 2010-11 to 2018-19. However, the number of students completing for-profit programs rose by only 37 percent, or 2,440 students, during the same period.
- Teachers of Tomorrow, which operated programs in eight states in 2018-19 and enrolled 58,460 students, dominates the for-profit sector and is by far the largest single teacher preparation program in the United States. It has grown rapidly since 2015 and, having recently gained accreditation, is poised for additional expansion.
- For the first time in one decade, non-IHE alternative certification programs enrolled a slightly higher percentage of students of color than white students in 2018-19. However, white students still comprised the majority of enrolled students in IHE-based programs, and across all program types, white students made up the majority of program completers.
- All types of certification programs enroll at least twice as many female students as male students, and no certification program type enrolls a particularly large percentage of students who identify as “other gender.” States must do more to collect comprehensive gender data and recruit a more gender-diverse teacher candidate population.
Although this study provides valuable data for policymakers seeking to understand the national and state-level non-IHE alternative certification sectors, there is more to investigate and understand. Important questions not answered in this report include whether teachers prepared through these programs provide quality instruction and whether their retention in the teaching field is commensurate with that of teachers prepared at colleges and universities. Some information exists that can help answer these questions, but there is not yet enough data to do so definitively. For example, research has found that teachers prepared through alternative routes are most prevalent at schools with high proportions of low-income students and students of color,10 but it is not known whether, or to what extent, this contributes to the nation’s long-standing disparities in student outcomes by race and/or ethnicity and income. In addition, state-based research suggests that teachers prepared through non-IHE alternative certification programs are less likely than their peers to remain in teaching,11 but there is a lack of national data with which to determine why this is the case. Policymakers should use the findings in this report to identify opportunities for further research and data collection in order to create targeted solutions to improve teacher preparation programs in their states.
A note on the data source
As part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) in 2008, Congress added a requirement that all teacher preparation programs report data on several metrics to the state in which they operate; states then report those data to the federal government. CAP’s previous report on alternative teacher certification examined data for the 2017-18 academic year, labeled as reporting year 2019. This report focuses on data from the 2018-19 academic year, or reporting year 2020, and the authors refer to the data by academic year throughout this updated report. This report also looks at trends from the 2010-11 academic year through the 2018-19 academic year, conducting an analysis for every other academic year in between. At the time of writing, the 2018-19 data were the most recent data, but at the time of publication, the Title II data for the 2019-20 academic year—reporting year 2021—had just been released.
Included within the reported data are enrollment and completion totals for programs in each state, among other metrics. Enrollment data are disaggregated by race and/or ethnicity and gender for all years reported. Beginning with data from the 2018-19 academic year, the race and/or ethnicity and gender of program completers were also disaggregated and reported. Other important demographic characteristics, including student age, income, and disability status, are not collected and are therefore not part of this analysis.
In the previous version of this report and in the reported Title II data, teacher preparation programs that lead to a degree or postbaccalaureate certificate are called “traditional” programs. In this report, the authors refer to those programs as “comprehensive” because it is more descriptive of their nature.
In addition to the 50 states and Washington D.C., data include, when available, the outlying U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. However, there are currently no non-IHE alternative certification programs in the U.S. territories.
Several for-profit and nonprofit organizations manage programs in multiple states. Because each state reports on the programs operating in its jurisdiction, these programs are counted as distinct entries in the Title II data. For example, Teach For America, a prominent nonprofit alternative certification provider, is represented 14 times in the Title II data for 2018-19.
Additionally, for every academic year analyzed prior to 2018-19, the authors use the term “enrollment” to encompass all students who were enrolled in a program during the academic year, including those students who completed the program during that year. This differs slightly from how these data are presented on the HEA Title II webpage, where enrollment and completion were shown as two separate, mutually exclusive categories until the 2018-19 data collection.12 The exceptions to this rule are when enrollment is disaggregated by race and/or ethnicity and gender. In those cases, enrollment reported before the 2018-19 academic year does not include completers because data on completers were not disaggregated by race and/or ethnicity until 2018-19.
Finally, providing information about race and/or ethnicity and gender is voluntary for students. Therefore, certain percentages of enrollment in those categories are taken up by people who chose not to report their race and/or ethnicity or gender. The authors manually calculated those unreported percentages for the academic years before 2018-19, and the percentages were reported for the first time in the 2018-19 data.
An overview of the teacher certification landscape
The Title II data categorize teacher preparation programs into three types: comprehensive programs, alternative certification programs based at an IHE, and alternative certification programs not based at an IHE (non-IHE).13
Teacher preparation program types
- Comprehensive teacher preparation programs: These programs are based at an IHE and often constitute a major or pathway that is part of a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The programs typically include significant clinical experiences, such as classroom observation and “student teaching” under the supervision of an experienced teacher and with support from IHE faculty. Teacher candidates who graduate from these programs do not become teachers of record until they have finished all their certification requirements.
- IHE-based alternative certification programs: Typically, alternative certification programs provide individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree with an alternative pathway to certification or licensure that does not require them to obtain another bachelor’s degree. In these programs, candidates become teachers of record before completing all their certification requirements. Alternative certification programs run by postsecondary institutions are defined by Title II data as IHE-based alternative certification programs.
- Non-IHE alternative certification programs: Organizations and actors that are not based in postsecondary institutions can also run alternative programs in some states; Title II data define these organizations as non-IHE alternative certification programs. Requirements for these programs, such as length, coursework, and supervised clinical experiences, can vary widely depending on program design and state laws surrounding teacher licensure.
Over the past decade, the non-IHE alternative certification sector has experienced different enrollment trends than the other program types. (see Figure 1) The sector saw a 76 percent increase in enrollment from 2010-11 to 2018-19, while the comprehensive and IHE-based alternative certification sectors experienced an overall decline in enrollment during the same period.14 Despite the non-IHE alternative certification sector’s growth in enrollment, however, it saw a decline in completion, as did the other two preparation program types. As a result, the sector contributed fewer teachers to the workforce in 2019 than it did in 2011.
Moreover, most teachers are still prepared through comprehensive programs: As of 2018-19, 74 percent of students—or 417,011—were enrolled in comprehensive programs. Comprehensive programs represented 67 percent—or 1,458—of total teacher preparation programs and 77 percent—or 116,204—of the students who completed a teacher preparation program.15
Despite the non-IHE alternative certification sector’s growth in enrollment, it saw a decline in completion, as did the other two preparation program types. As a result, the sector contributed fewer teachers to the workforce in 2019 than it did in 2011.
The alternative certification sector is significantly smaller: In 2018-19, 143,489 students were enrolled in 719 alternative certification programs, and 34,181 students completed. Twenty-three percent of these programs—or 495—were IHE-based; they enrolled 48,968 students, or about 9 percent of total enrollment in teacher preparation programs, with 11 percent—or 15,865 students— completing.16
The remaining 224 programs were non-IHE alternative certification programs, comprising about 10 percent of all programs. Additionally, non-IHE alternative certification programs enrolled about 17 percent of students, and about 12 percent of students who completed a teacher preparation program in 2018-19 were enrolled in this type of program.
The non-IHE alternative certification sector
This section takes a closer look at the non-IHE alternative certification sector, describing the types of organizations that operate programs within it and outlining the role that for-profit organizations play. The section also considers the states in which these programs operate and how enrollment varies by race and/or ethnicity and gender.
Program operators in the non-IHE alternative certification sector
For this section’s analysis, the authors grouped non-IHE alternative certification programs exclusively by type of program operator, such as for-profit organizations. Still, programs in different operator groups may have some similarities; for example, both nonprofit and for-profit organizations can operate teacher residency programs.
A note on for-profit providers
It is important to distinguish between for-profit institutions of postsecondary education and for-profit alternative certification providers. For-profit postsecondary institutions grant degrees and/or certificates, must have some form of accreditation, and are eligible to participate in federal student financial aid programs. For-profit providers of alternative certification do not grant degrees or certificates and cannot participate in federal student aid programs. States determine whether to authorize these programs to operate, and each state sets its own policies for determining eligibility.
The authors call one of these operator types “IHE partners.” Programs operated by IHE partners are affiliated with institutions of higher education—most frequently, community colleges—but based on program details and particular state definitions of IHEs, individual states have still categorized these few programs as “alternative, not IHE-based” programs. Therefore, the authors have included them in this analysis as non-IHE programs.17
The authors analyzed 2018-19 program operators based on three measures: 1) the number of programs operated; 2) the number of students enrolled in these programs; and 3) the number of program completers. (see Figure 2)
Number of programs operated
Individual schools, school districts, and regional education service agencies (RESAs) operated 111 non-IHE alternative certification programs in 2018-19, nearly half of the 224 total. (see Figure 2a) Nonprofit organizations managed 52 programs, or just less than one-quarter of the 224 total. For-profit organizations operated 31 programs, or 14 percent of the total.
Number of students enrolled
For-profit organizations operated 14 percent of alternative certification teacher preparation programs, but they enrolled 65,350 students. This amounts to almost 70 percent of all students in non-IHE alternative certification programs. (see Figure 2b) Individual schools, districts, and RESAs enrolled 16,996 students, or 18 percent of total enrollment in the sector. Nonprofit organizations enrolled 7,592 students, or only 8 percent of total enrollment.
Number of program completers
Overall, the authors found that 8,958 students who completed a non-IHE alternative certification program did so through a for-profit organization. This is almost half of the total number of students. (see Figure 2c) Meanwhile, approximately 25 percent of completers—4,825 students—attended programs run by schools, school districts, and RESAs. Seventeen percent of completers, or 3,123 students, attended programs run by nonprofit organizations.
Taken together, the results of these analyses reveal a clearer picture of the non-IHE alternative certification sector. Individual schools, districts, and RESAs; for-profit organizations; and nonprofit organizations were consistently the largest program operators across all three measures. However, there are significant differences in scale among these three operator categories. These differences are particularly striking for enrollment, with for-profit operators enrolling more than two-thirds of the students in this sector but operating only 12 percent of programs.
The authors found that 8,958 students who completed a non-IHE alternative certification program did so through a for-profit organization.
As shown in Figure 3, trends in enrollment and completion across operator types also diverge. Enrollment grew sharply among for-profit providers, rising by 48,282 students, or by 283 percent, from 2010-11 to 2018-19. The only other non-IHE providers that saw enrollment growth during this period were schools, districts, and RESAs, as well as charter schools and associations, but those increases were far more modest. All other types of non-IHE providers saw declining enrollment. Most types of non-IHE providers also experienced declining completion during this period: Despite dramatic enrollment growth, the number of candidates completing for-profit programs rose by only 2,440. As a result, total completions from the non-IHE sector fell by 2,016 from 2010-11 to 2018-19, and the non-IHE sector did not supply additional teachers to the workforce beyond what it contributed in 2010-11.
State policy largely determines whether and what kind of non-IHE organizations can offer teacher preparation programs. The next subsection looks more closely at the landscape of non-IHE alternative certification across U.S. states and territories.
The non-IHE alternative certification sector in states
As shown in Figure 4, non-IHE alternative certification programs operated in 33 states and Washington, D.C., in 2018-19. Most states have relatively few non-IHE alternative certification programs, with 28 states hosting fewer than 10 programs in 2018-19 and seven states hosting only one. In contrast, six states have 10 or more programs in the non-IHE alternative certification sector. Texas has the most programs at 41; the other five states with at least 10 programs are California (12), Colorado (16), Georgia (22), Maryland (10), and West Virginia (22). See the Appendix for a complete list of non-IHE alternative certification programs by state, including 2018-19 enrollment and completion totals.
States were most likely to permit nonprofit organizations to operate alternative certification programs: Nonprofit-run alternative certification programs are recognized in 25 states. Many of these organizations are local, but three of them operate in more than one state. The largest and most prominent among them is Teach For America, which had 14 programs in 13 states and enrolled a total of 1,761 students in 2018-19. Schools, school districts, and RESAs operated alternative teacher certification programs in 15 states, followed by for-profit organizations, which operated programs in 11 states; higher education partners, which operated programs in 10 states; and charter schools and associations, which operated programs in nine states. Five states—Arkansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Utah, and Vermont—sponsor their own alternative certification programs.
Most states have relatively few non-IHE alternative certification programs, with 28 states hosting fewer than 10 programs in 2018-19 and seven states hosting only one.
The authors also analyzed enrollment and completion in non-IHE alternative certification programs for the states with the largest enrollment in this sector in 2018-19. Twenty-seven states had fewer than 1,000 students enrolled in their non-IHE alternative certification sector, and seven states had more than 1,000 students enrolled. Texas had the largest enrollment, with 65,739 students, followed by North Carolina with 7,062 students, Florida with 3,219 students, Georgia with 2,771 students, South Carolina with 1,593 students, California with 1,395 students, and Louisiana with 1,278 students. Texas is the only state in which non-IHE alternative certification programs account for the majority of enrollment: 68 percent of the state’s total enrollment in educator preparation is in that sector. In the other states with more than 1,000 students enrolled in non-IHE alternative certification programs, the sector accounts for as little as 4 percent of total enrollment (California) to as high as 38 percent (North Carolina). Program completions lagged far behind enrollment in these seven states, with Texas far outpacing other states, with 10,200 program completers, followed by Florida at 1,084. The other five states had fewer than 1,000 program completers each.
Texas is the only state in which non-IHE alternative certification programs account for the majority of enrollment: 68 percent of the state’s total enrollment in educator preparation is in that sector.
To provide historical context for some of these numbers, the authors examined enrollment and completion trends for these seven states from 2010-11 to 2018-19. While enrollment grew substantially in most of the seven states in the past decade, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina saw completions decline.
The only states that saw a rise in completions close to their growth in enrollment were Florida and Louisiana. In Florida, the District Alternative Certification Program increased completions by 65 percent. Louisiana increased completions primarily by adding new programs, including Teachers of Tomorrow. Texas saw a 5 percent decline in completions because, while the number of students completing for-profit programs increased, other parts of the sector, including nonprofit providers, IHE partners, and school, district, or RESA programs, contracted. Together, 48 such programs existed in 2010-11, enrolling 11,350 students and graduating 4,109 teacher candidates. By 2018-19, there were 22 programs in these categories, and they enrolled only 3,273 students and graduated 1,627 new teachers. It is difficult to know for certain, but it is possible that the growth of Teachers of Tomorrow came at the expense of other programs that had higher rates of completion. In any case, these data suggest that rapid growth of for-profit providers may not yield the results states seek with regard to alleviating teacher shortages.
Rapid growth of for-profit providers may not yield the results states seek with regard to alleviating teacher shortages.
For-profit, non-IHE alternative certification programs
As noted previously, for-profit organizations operate 31 non-IHE alternative certification programs and enroll almost 70 percent of all students in this sector. These 31 programs are located in 11 states, with 18 programs operating in Texas alone. The other 10 states with for-profit programs are Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina. This is an increase since 2010-11, when only three states had non-IHE alternative certification programs run by for-profit organizations.18 Seven of the new states have a non-IHE alternative certification program run by Teachers of Tomorrow, helping to fuel the organization’s dramatic enrollment growth.19 As shown in Figure 5, after rising dramatically through the 2016-17 academic year, enrollment in for-profit providers other than Teachers of Tomorrow declined in 2018-19 to fewer than 7,000 students. As a result, Teachers of Tomorrow accounted for 89 percent of enrollment in for-profit, non-IHE alternative certification programs in 2018-19.
In 2002, Texas became the first state to authorize for-profit providers of non-IHE alternative teacher preparation. It has since hosted by far the largest number of such programs.20 In Texas, for-profit programs enrolled 94 percent of the 65,739 students in the non-IHE alternative certification sector and 58 percent of all teacher candidates across comprehensive, alternative IHE, and non-IHE programs. (see Figure 6) The growth of this sector has had a significant impact on the teaching profession in the state: One-third of teachers employed in Texas public schools in 2020-21 came from an alternative certification program.21 Teachers of Tomorrow, which began in Texas, is by far the largest educator preparation program in the state, with enrollment of 55,807 in 2018-19.
These 31 programs are located in 11 states, with 18 programs operating in Texas alone. … This is an increase since 2010-11, when only three states had non-IHE alternative certification programs run by for-profit organizations.
As shown in Figure 6, for-profit providers operating alternative certification programs in 2018-19 outside of Texas enrolled fewer than 1,000 students in each state. Although in most of these states, that enrollment is sufficient for for-profit, non-IHE programs to have a substantial presence in the non-IHE alternative certification sector, they are much smaller players in the states’ broader teacher preparation landscapes, representing less than 10 percent of all teacher preparation candidates. Notably, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina have relatively new Teachers of Tomorrow programs. Given the rapid growth of this organization in Texas, it is possible these programs will grow significantly in the years ahead.
Teachers of Tomorrow
When measured by enrollment, Texas Teachers of Tomorrow is the largest teacher preparation program in the United States. Teachers of Tomorrow also operates in seven states outside of Texas: Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Previous CAP reports raised several concerns about Teachers of Tomorrow, including the low percentage of students who complete the program and its questionable academic rigor.22 Coursework modules are entirely online and consist only of Microsoft PowerPoint slides and videos that students click through at their own pace. No formal observation or supervised teaching experience is necessary before students can enter the classroom and teach on their own while they finish completing program requirements.23
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many teacher preparation programs to adapt to the loss of in-person coursework and in-school learning experience. Although it may be tempting to consider teacher preparation programs that had to move online in 2020 as somehow comparable to Teachers of Tomorrow, that is not the case. Most of these other programs continued to offer candidates virtual clinical experiences when pre-K to 12 schools began offering remote learning, and they resumed in-person clinical preparation as soon as pre-K to 12 schools resumed in-person operations.24 It is important that policymakers incentivize teacher preparation programs to retain an emphasis on quality and to continue to provide candidates with supervised teaching experience and in-depth instruction.25
In recent years, Texas officials have questioned whether the state’s reliance on Teachers of Tomorrow is in the best interest of teacher candidates and pre-K to 12 schools.26 In May 2021, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a report finding Teachers of Tomorrow out of compliance with 7 of 9 components of program approval, including admission criteria, curricula, and program delivery and ongoing support.27 In order to continue operating, Texas Teachers of Tomorrow has committed to addressing these deficiencies by late 2022 or risks losing the state board of education’s approval; it is currently operating as “Accredited – Probation” during the 2021-22 academic year.28 This 2021 report follows a 2016 TEA review that found the organization out of compliance with multiple elements required for continued state approval.29
In May 2021, the Texas Education Agency released a report finding Teachers of Tomorrow out of compliance with 7 of 9 components of program approval.
Despite these concerns, Teachers of Tomorrow is actively seeking to expand into additional states. In a July 2021 interview with American Public Media, Dave Saba, chief development officer for Teachers of Tomorrow, said, “There’s plenty of open runway for us. We could be in 25 states tomorrow. I could be in 40 with a little bit more work, and then all 50 states at some point in time.”30
The expansion of Teachers of Tomorrow to additional states may be facilitated by the fact that it recently received accreditation from the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation (AAQEP), one of two organizations that accredit educator preparation programs.31 Some states require accreditation as a precondition for program recognition under the assumption that institutions receiving accreditation have met reasonable program quality standards. Indeed, the AAQEP asserts that its accreditation system is “designed to ensure comparable quality across the many and multiplying preparation pathways that give access to and advancement in the education professions.”32 In that case, however, it is difficult to understand how Teachers of Tomorrow gained accreditation, when graduates have had no formal instruction or supervised preservice clinical experience.
The expansion of Teachers of Tomorrow to additional states may be facilitated by the fact that it recently received accreditation from the Association for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation.
Given existing concerns about Teachers of Tomorrow, policymakers should be wary of welcoming for-profit teacher preparation programs into their state and be thoughtful about how to maintain strong oversight of existing programs.33
Enrollment and completion by race and/or ethnicity
An abundance of research has shown that both students of color and white students benefit from having diverse teachers,34 but there is a long-standing discrepancy in demographic characteristics between teacher candidates and students enrolled in public pre-K to 12 schools. In 2020, 54 percent of students in public elementary and secondary schools were students of color, but only 27 percent of teacher preparation program completers in 2018-19 were people of color.35
Over the past decade, students of color have never made up more than 28 percent of enrollment in comprehensive programs, whereas students of color have never represented less than 31 percent of enrollment in alternative certification programs.
As discussed earlier in this report, most teacher candidates enroll in and complete comprehensive programs. Therefore, based on the number of students, comprehensive programs prepare the largest number of students of color.36 However, from 2010-11 to 2018-19, alternative certification programs—both IHE-based or non-IHE-based—have consistently enrolled a higher percentage of students of color than comprehensive programs. Over the past decade, students of color have never made up more than 28 percent of enrollment in comprehensive programs, whereas students of color have never represented less than 31 percent of enrollment in alternative certification programs. The percentage of students of color at comprehensive programs rose from 2010-11 to 2018-19, but the rate of growth was faster at both types of alternative programs. Additionally, disaggregated completion data first collected for the 2018-19 academic year reveal that alternative certification programs had a higher percentage of students of color among program completers than did comprehensive programs.
In 2018-19, non-IHE-based alternative certification programs enrolled the highest percentage of students of color, at 44 percent. (see Figure 7) This marked the first time in the past decade that any teacher preparation program sector enrolled a higher percentage of students of color than students who identified as white. At 20 percent of all enrollees, Black or African American students were the largest group of students of color. Non-IHE alternative certification programs also had the highest percentage of students of color complete their programs, at 42 percent. (see Figure 8) Among program completers, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest group of students of color, at 20 percent. Still, the majority of students who completed non-IHE alternative certification programs were white, at 55 percent.
IHE-based alternative certification programs enrolled the second-highest share of students of color, at 38 percent of enrolled students in 2018-19. White students represented 51 percent of enrolled students. The largest group of students of color was Hispanic or Latino students, at 18 percent of all enrollees. IHE-based alternative certification programs had the second-highest share of students of color among their program completers, at 34 percent. Among all completers, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest group of students of color, at 15 percent, while white students represented 58 percent of completers.
Comprehensive programs enrolled the lowest percentage of students of color, at 27 percent in 2018-19. Once again, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest group of students of color, at 13 percent of all enrollees. White students represented 67 percent of enrolled students. Comprehensive programs had the lowest share of students of color among their program completers, at 24 percent. Students who identified as Hispanic or Latino represented the largest group of students of color who completed a comprehensive program, at 12 percent, while white students represented 71 percent of program completers.
Among students of color in each teacher preparation program type, Hispanic or Latino and Black or African American students represented the highest percentages of enrollees and the highest percentages of completers. No teacher preparation program enrolled or completed a particularly high percentage of American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or Asian students. Enrollment and completion for Asian students across all three program types ranged from 2 percent to 5 percent. Enrollment and completion rates for American Indian or Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander students were less than 1 percent across all program types.
No teacher preparation program enrolled or completed a particularly high percentage of American Indian or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or Asian students.
It is worth noting that as of 2017, about 5 percent of school-age children nationally were Asian, about 1 percent of school-age children were American Indian or Alaska Native, and less than 1 percent of school-age children were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.37 Despite these small percentages, more teachers from these communities are needed, especially in school districts where enrollment of students from these communities is above national averages.38
White students remain the largest race and/or ethnicity group enrolled in comprehensive and IHE-based alternative certification programs, in addition to making up the majority of program completers across all three program types.
Over the past decade, a consistently higher percentage of students of color enrolled and completed teacher preparation programs in the alternative certification sector. This could be because alternative certification programs feature greater flexibility and lower initial costs—something that may be attractive to students of color, who often face a high student debt burden.39 Still, white students remain the largest race and/or ethnicity group enrolled in comprehensive and IHE-based alternative certification programs, in addition to making up the majority of program completers across all three program types. Therefore, it is important that all types of teacher preparation programs focus not just on removing barriers to entry but also on helping students of color successfully complete programs. The alternative certification sector may serve as a model for best practices in this regard while still identifying opportunities for improvement, as all programs struggle to support students of color to graduation and beyond.
Enrollment and completion by gender
The need for greater diversity in the teaching profession also extends to gender diversity. The most recent data show that women comprise 77 percent of teachers in pre-K to 12 public schools nationwide.40 Combined with the lack of racial diversity in the teaching profession, the lack of gender diversity creates significant representation gaps. For example, Black male educators make up about 2 percent of the teaching profession nationally in pre-K to 12 public schools.41 Furthermore, most federal and state education data collection efforts do not allow educators to select among expansive gender identity options to describe themselves, which has created a limited picture of how many transgender, nonbinary, Two-Spirit, and other gender-nonconforming and gender-diverse people work in the teaching profession.42 All education data collection efforts should continue to expand how they collect information on gender identity, pursuant to evolving guidance about best practices in collecting this data while respecting the privacy and confidentiality of respondents.43
A note on gender terminology in this section
In this section, terms such as “male,” “female,” and “gender” reflect their usage in the Title II data source.44 Starting in 2018-19, Title II added an “other gender” category for those who do not wish to select “female” or “male.”
From 2010-11 to 2018-19, all three program types enrolled a significantly higher percentage of female students than male students. Male student enrollment stayed between 21 percent and 34 percent across all three program types, with a slightly higher percentage of male students enrolled in alternative programs than in comprehensive programs; even at its highest, however, male enrollment never exceeded 34 percent of the student population.
In 2018-19, female enrollment was more than double male enrollment in all three program types. Comprehensive programs saw the largest discrepancy between male and female enrollment: Female enrollment was more than triple that of male enrollment, accounting for 77 percent of total enrollment. Male enrollment, meanwhile, was only 21 percent of total enrollment. In addition, only 0.03 percent of enrollees chose “other gender.” In IHE-based alternative certification programs, female enrollment was more than double that of male enrollment. It accounted for 68 percent of total enrollment, while male enrollment accounted for 29 percent. 0.3 percent of enrollees chose “other gender.” In non-IHE alternative certification programs, female enrollment was 61 percent of total enrollment, while male enrollment was only 29 percent. 0.04 percent of enrollees chose “other gender.”
In 2018-19, female enrollment was more than double male enrollment in all three program types.
The 2018-19 completion data disaggregated by gender reveal similar trends, with women making up the majority of program completers. For comprehensive programs, 79 percent of completers were women, 20 percent were men, and 0.04 percent selected “other gender.” For IHE-based alternative certification programs, 70 percent of completers were women, 29 were men, and 0.3 percent selected “other gender.” Finally, for non-IHE alternative certification programs, 69 percent of completers were women, 30 percent were men, and 0.05 percent selected “other gender.”
Gender of non-IHE alternative certification program completers: By the numbers
Share of completers who reported as female
Share of completers who reported as male
Share of completers who reported as “other gender”
The enrollment and completion data across all three types of teacher preparation programs illustrate the gender imbalance in the teaching profession. Comprehensive programs, which have long faced the largest gender gaps, saw a small but steady decline in male enrollment from 2010-11 to 2018-19. Throughout the years studied, alternative certification programs have had a slightly smaller gap between female and male students, but female enrollment was still consistently at least double that of male enrollment. Therefore, all teacher preparation programs should engage in efforts to recruit and retain more male educators, especially male educators of color.45
The enrollment and completion data across all three types of teacher preparation programs illustrate the gender imbalance in the teaching profession.
Finally, this is the first year that Title II data have included an “other gender” category. All three program types enroll and complete a small percentage of people that identify as “other gender,” with IHE-based alternative certification programs representing the most, at 0.3 percent. As more years of data are collected in this category, it is important that researchers look for trends and potential reasons why certain teacher preparation program types enroll and complete more transgender and gender-diverse students. Furthermore, although the “other gender” category is a start, researchers involved in Title II data collection efforts—as well as the education research field and the pre-K to 12 education ecosystem as a whole—should continue to reevaluate and update available gender options.46
Researchers involved in Title II data collection efforts—as well as the education research field and the pre-K to 12 education ecosystem as a whole—should continue to reevaluate and update available gender options.
Importantly, LGBTQ+ educators act as role models for LGBTQ+ youth and for all students.47 Alongside improving data collection efforts, state and federal policymakers should collect qualitative data about the experiences of gender-diverse educators by speaking with teacher candidates and current teachers who hold these identities about any challenges they faced throughout their teacher preparation process, as well as any school-based challenges they currently face. Doing so will allow policymakers and school leaders to begin the work of removing obstacles so that these teachers enter and remain in the profession.
This updated overview of the non-IHE alternative certification sector provides important information for policymakers, education researchers, and leaders in educator preparation seeking to identify necessary legislation, regulations, or opportunities for additional research.
The presence of large and growing for-profit, non-IHE alternative certification programs continues to raise significant concerns for the sector. Despite only operating in 11 states, for-profit organizations enroll 69 percent of all students in this sector. Given some for-profit colleges’ history of deceptive and harmful practices, policymakers should proceed with caution in this area by examining the track records of large for-profit, non-IHE alternative certification programs to determine whether their model will benefit teacher candidates, students, and schools. This will also allow policymakers to consider where laws or regulations are needed to prevent these programs from expanding further.48 Moreover, given the steady decline in the number of program completers across all three teacher preparation program types, policymakers should carefully consider whether adding for-profit alternative certification providers to their state’s teacher preparation offerings will alleviate teacher shortages and maintain the quality of instruction in pre-K to 12 schools.
Although concerns about non-IHE alternative programs cannot be overlooked, there may be important lessons to learn from this sector as well, such as how it consistently enrolls the highest proportion of students of color. As all teacher preparation programs strive to recruit and graduate more students of color, it is important to consider the barriers that alternative certification programs may be successfully addressing, while keeping in mind that some “advantages,” such as short program lengths, can have drawbacks for educational quality and completion rates. It is also worth researching and investing in other models, including partnerships between community colleges and four-year universities, as well as Grow Your Own programs that support high school students and nonteacher school personnel in becoming teachers. These programs are proving successful at increasing teacher diversity while ensuring that candidates are ready to succeed and persist as teachers.49
Policymakers should carefully consider whether adding for-profit alternative certification providers to their state’s teacher preparation offerings will alleviate teacher shortages and maintain the quality of instruction in pre-K to 12 schools.
Finally, teacher preparation programs across all three sectors enroll at least twice as many female students as male students, and further research is needed to determine how best to close this gender gap. Additionally, there needs to be greater inclusivity of transgender and gender-diverse identities when collecting information about educators in order to achieve proper representation and a more accurate understanding of the gender diversity in the teaching profession.
This analysis aims to update and extend the information base on non-IHE alternative certification programs. Looking ahead, more comprehensive data and additional state-specific research could help policymakers ensure all preparation programs are preparing teacher candidates to succeed in the classroom and effectively support all students.
The authors would like to thank Emily Katz at the Center for American Progress for conducting the data quality check for this report and Caroline Medina for their helpful feedback. Additionally, the authors would like to thank Lynn Gangone, Jacqueline Rodriguez, Leslie Fenwick, Weadé James, Jane West, and Katrina Norfleet at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education for their expert review and insights.