Leaders and advocates have focused on high teacher vacancy rates, but there’s no shortage of people who want to teach in Texas — our schools are employing more teachers than ever. The problem — which isn’t new — is the unrelenting demand for teachers driven by high attrition among underprepared beginning teachers.

One promising strategy to address this challenge is expanding access to high-quality teacher pathways by better supporting aspiring educators who start at community colleges.

According to a recent survey of teacher candidates at one four-year institution in Texas, a majority of the undergraduates in the last two years of their bachelor’s degree in education are transfer students. These candidates overwhelmingly reported that they had not only planned to transfer upon entering community college but also knew they wanted to major in education.

The survey findings also underscore transfer students’ unique assets and challenges. Compared to their peers entering directly from high school, transfer candidates tend to have more extensive work experience and place greater value on credit transfer, course availability, job placement, and the ability to stay close to home when choosing a college. They also face greater financial barriers to staying enrolled, highlighting the importance of having support services and paid clinical opportunities for students.

At EdTrust, we believe it’s essential to involve aspiring and current educators in developing policy solutions that will shape the future teacher workforce. One member of our inaugural Educator Advisory Council, Brandon Jenkins, described his professional journey in testimony before the Texas Legislature:

“While working full-time for the district, I also attended San Jacinto Community College, primarily because it was the most affordable option to take the first step in my studies. Although I was making a steady income working for the district, I knew it was not enough to sustain me at a four-year university,” said Brandon, who transferred to the University of Houston–Downtown’s teacher education program, in large part, because there was a clear pathway.

“The college offered precise course planning that ensured all my credits would transfer and be accounted for,” he said, adding that he was keenly aware that students are often forced to spend extra time and money to complete required courses when their credits don’t transfer with them.

As an aspiring educator, Brandon is also acutely aware that many teacher preparation programs are struggling to attract candidates, especially candidates of color, so when the dean of the college of education invited him to help develop potential solutions, he was thrilled to participate.

“The highlight of my college career has been working with our college dean to innovate new ways of recruiting and retaining students,” said Brandon, who highlighted the importance of creating social spaces “that provide opportunities for students to interact with faculty and peers and feel a sense of belonging that ultimately increases student recruitment and retention.”

Creating more clear and accessible preparation pathways for transfer candidates is essential for Texas to cultivate a more diverse teacher workforce. Statewide, 70% of students of color begin their higher education at a community college, and nearly two-thirds of already-employed educational aides with some college but no degree are Black or Latino. Research shows that all students benefit from a strong, diverse teacher workforce, and Texas data shows that educators of color are significantly more likely to stay in the profession than their white peers.

Fortunately, our partners at US PREP are launching Educator Preparation Partnership Pathways in multiple regions across Texas to bring together leaders and practitioners from both community colleges and four-year universities to design collaborative solutions to better recruit and support the success of transfer candidates. Strategies include simplifying credit transfer by establishing clearer articulation agreements, improving advising structures, leveraging funding streams, and promoting paid apprenticeship and residency programs.

Meanwhile, at EdTrust, we are deeply invested in working alongside US PREP and other educator preparation leaders across the state to deliver relevant policy knowledge and surface opportunities for practitioners to shape the policy decisions that impact their programs, candidates, and, ultimately, Texas students. For example, our team is closely monitoring and engaging in rulemaking and implementation of House Bill 8, state community college finance legislation designed to expand access to dual-credit coursework and incentivize completion of associate degrees in high-demand fields. We’ve also been advancing various policy solutions to address students’ unmet financial and basic needs, including recent investments in the state’s need-based financial aid programs that most impact community college and transfer students. Finally, we continue to support and advocate for the growth of paid, yearlong residency programs and emerging apprenticeships, which have the potential to make high-quality pathways into the teaching profession clearer, more accessible, and more financially attractive than ever.

In his testimony, Brandon said he’s ecstatic that his program is partnering with school districts to ensure that more candidates benefit from paid residency experiences, as this will give students some “financial stability during their clinical studies, while allowing districts to identify, develop and hire talented candidates swiftly.” We, at EdTrust in Texas, couldn’t agree more.

Brandon’s testimony also shows why it’s essential to give aspiring educators opportunities to voice their concerns and opinions and have a say in shaping policies and practices that will be responsive to their needs. We are excited to continue partnering with educators, school systems, preparation programs, and policymakers to build the teacher workforce the students of Texas need and deserve.