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### Valencia College to Introduce Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education Amid Teacher Shortage

Like other school districts in Florida, Orange and Osceola counties have faced challenges in recruiting teachers in recent years, leading them to hire numerous educators from abroad to address the shortage in their classrooms.

A potential solution is on the horizon with the introduction of a new bachelor’s degree program in elementary education by Valencia College. This program is specifically designed to cater to the needs of Orange and Osceola counties, aiming to supply qualified teachers to their public schools.

Targeting students who may find attending the University of Central Florida or other traditional four-year institutions impractical, the Valencia program seeks to expand the pool of potential teachers available to local schools.

One distinctive feature of the program is an apprenticeship component, allowing students with associate’s degrees to work as teacher’s aides while pursuing upper-level classes. Priced at $10,000 for the entire four-year degree, the program offers a more affordable alternative to the tuition fees at UCF.

Kathleen Plinske, the President of Valencia College, emphasized the urgent need for qualified elementary teachers, highlighting the program’s approval by the State Board of Education as a significant step towards addressing the teacher shortage in the region.

Scheduled to commence in the 2024-25 academic year, the program aims to graduate 180 new teachers by 2028, providing much-needed relief to school districts struggling to fill teaching positions.

The shortage of educators in Florida was evident at the beginning of the current school year, with over 4,700 open teacher positions reported by the statewide teachers union. Local districts, including Osceola, continue to grapple with teacher vacancies, with elementary schools particularly affected.

One contributing factor to the shortage is the declining number of college students pursuing education degrees. For instance, UCF witnessed a significant drop in the number of elementary education graduates over the years, exacerbating the shortfall in teacher supply for Orange and Osceola schools.

To mitigate this challenge, educational institutions are exploring various avenues to recruit new teachers, including encouraging career changes among residents with college degrees and facilitating pathways for substitutes to transition into full-time teaching roles.

In response to the growing demand for teachers, Valencia College’s innovative program is poised to play a crucial role in addressing the teacher shortage in Central Florida. By offering an accessible and affordable degree pathway, the program aims to attract students who face barriers such as geographical constraints and transportation issues that may hinder their enrollment in traditional universities.

Through a unique apprenticeship model distinct from UCF’s offerings, Valencia College seeks to complement existing teacher education programs and expand the pool of prospective educators in the region.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz commended Valencia College for its initiative, expressing optimism about similar programs emerging in other regions. The collaborative efforts between educational institutions and stakeholders reflect a proactive approach to tackling the pressing need for qualified teachers in Florida’s school systems.