Teach for America sees 35 percent drop in applicants, revamping recruitment strategy

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (April 18, 2016) - The teacher shortage is now making an impact on a national organization that aims to place talented teachers in low income communities. 'Teach for America'experienced a 35 percent drop in applicants in just three years. The decrease in candidates could affect Indianapolis schools hoping to fill teacher vacancies.

At Kipp Indy, the influence of Teach for America is clear. Twenty-six corps members and alumni work at the elementary and middle schools.

"Teach for America is one of several pipelines we use to bring great talent into the building," said Emily Pelino, executive director of Kipp Indy Public Schools.  "So, we absolutely need folks to continue to apply.  It’s critical to ensuring we have great teachers in every classroom."

In 2013,  there were 57,000 applicants for TFA. The number decreased to 37,000 in 2016.  The program places highly-qualified recent college graduates in struggling schools across the country. The corps members are required to go through special training and commit to teaching for at least two years.

"There are more opportunities available to [college graduates]," said Rebecca Thompson Boyle, executive director of TFA Indianapolis. "Students that are in college today grew up in a recession. I think financial sustainability is much more important."

Thompson Boyle said TFA competes with Wall Street, medical and law schools for top candidates. The program remains very selective. They only accept about 15 percent of applicants.  She said an improving economy and controversy around education issues like standardized testing can turn young people away from a career in education.

"I think it is unarguable that are teachers are not paid enough and not compensated fairly.," Thompson Boyle said. "When you graduate from college with tens of thousands dollars in student debt, it is overwhelming to think about taking a job where you’re going to be making between 30 and 40 thousand dollars your first year. "

So, TFA is revamping its entire recruitment strategy. The organization added a new team focused on increasing the number of applicants. They are also encouraging college students to apply for the program by their junior year of college and giving them more chances to see TFA corps members in action.

"It's not just about filling empty seats, it’s about bringing young people into the profession that would not have gone into education otherwise," Thompson Boyle said.

Though TFA was established in Indianapolis just eight years ago, there are currently 550 alumni corps members and staff in the circle city.