Participation in Teach for America, a nationwide program that recruits recent college graduates for short teaching stints in urban schools, has dropped over the past year. Numbers released Tuesday by the nonprofit organization showed that new teachers for the 2015-2016 academic year totaled 4,100. Last year, new membership was 5,300.
The new class was one of the most diverse in Teach for America history, with about half of participants being people of color or from low-income families. They studied at about 830 different colleges across the U.S., and their collective GPA was 3.4, according to a news release.
But only about 44,000 people applied, down from 50,000 the year before. In fact, application numbers have been dropping since 2013, when more than 57,000 people requested to be a part of the teaching corps. Some have theorized that as the economy has recovered from the Great Recession, more job opportunities have opened up for college graduates.
"Persuading young Americans to choose this work is tougher than ever," co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva Beard and Matthew Kramer wrote in a blog post earlier this year. "In the shadow of the recession, college graduates are moving away from public and service-oriented work and gravitating towards professions they perceive as more stable and financially sustainable. The polarized conversation around education isn’t helping either."
Teach for America has faced complaints from critics and alumni who argue it's too politically connected, doesn't prepare its teachers well enough, enables rapid turnover at needy schools and doesn't generate long-term teachers, the Huffington Post reported. Potential applicants were apparently listening, as about 70 percent of people who considered joining Teach for America but didn't said they were dissuaded by the controversy, according to a February 2015 report from the nonprofit Bellwether Education Partners.
To fix its sliding numbers, Teach for America planned to switch up its recruiting strategies. It will start finding "more emerging leaders, including engaging prospective corps members earlier in their college careers," and help them connect with current corps members and alumni "to get a firsthand sense of their daily work," according to the release. The first application deadline to join next year's corps was set for Aug. 21.