Mississippi teacher shortage fueled by student loan crisis, report shows

Over the last seven years, Mississippi’s public education system has seen a sharp decline in the number of students graduating from in-state teaching programs and pre-qualified teachers coming from different states. This is exacerbated by low and stagnating salaries and the rising cost of college education, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Mississippi First, a nonpartisan education advocacy organization based in Jackson, noted in the report that the state’s educator preparation program – the primary source of new teachers – saw a 32% decline between 2013 and 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, and a 96% decline in the number of teachers coming from out-of-state.

Those declines have had a serious impact on the overall number of teachers in the state’s public education system.

In less than a decade, the number of new standard five-year teacher licenses issued by Mississippi Department Education has dropped by 85% from 3,626 to just 557 in 2019. 

Meanwhile, the number of emergency licenses issued has spiked from 885 in 2016-2017 to 1,924 in 2018-2019.

In addition, 57% fewer Black teacher candidates enrolled in 2018 compared with 2010, adding major diversity issues into the mix.

That has led the organization to declare a crisis in a state that is often listed at the bottom of national public education rankings.

“After years of relative stability, Mississippi’s pre-service educator pipeline is suddenly drying up—fast,” said the report. “Not only do aspiring Mississippi teachers have lower salaries to look forward to, they also have to pay more for the privilege, due to the skyrocketing cost of college and disappearing teacher-specific financial aid.”

Since the great recession of the 2000s, the inflation-adjusted average salaries of teachers in Mississippi has fallen by around $10,000 to $45,105 in 2019, according to the report. 

That means teachers in Mississippi earn $6,000 less than teachers in neighboring states and $20,000 less than the average Mississippian with a bachelor’s degree, the report showed.

As the number of teachers coming through the state’s educator pipeline has plummeted, the number of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree has increased significantly, according to the report, suggesting that fewer graduates see the teaching profession as economically viable.

Alongside those declines is the increase in the cost of a college education in Mississippi, rising 26% between 2008 and 2017, forcing many aspiring teachers to take on loans that leave them in tens of thousands of dollars in debt after graduation.

“Stagnant salaries and sky-high tuition are forcing teachers to accept a lower standard of living—hardly the conditions necessary to reverse the rapidly worsening teacher shortage,” said the report, which calculated that after paying student loans the average teacher’s take home pay would be reduced to $20,000. 

“Teachers with student debt or dependents—or both—are at a severe risk of earning less than a ‘minimum subsistence wage,’ increasing the likelihood they will either need to rely on government assistance or suffer housing and food insecurity.”

Mississippi First has recommended that to fix these issues, all public-school teachers in the state should receive a minimum raise of $3,000 and a further $3,000 stipend for any teacher working in critical shortage areas. 

The organization also recommends providing significant financial aid incentives to teachers willing to work in critical shortage positions by providing undergraduate grants and loan repayment assistance. Failing that, the groups recommends amending existing legislation and secure appropriations to expand financial aid for all prospective teachers.

“We do not want to know the full extent of the disaster that awaits if Mississippi does not act,” concluded the report. “While we believe raising the financial prospects for teachers to raise the overall prestige and attractiveness of the profession is imperative to ultimately ‘solving’ Mississippi’s teacher shortage, we should be clear that our specific recommendations have a more immediate goal: reverse the alarming downturn in Mississippi educator preparation program completers.”

The Reckon Report.
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