Finances impact aspiring teachers' choices, report finds

Combining survey results from VCU and 11 other institutions, “Why Money Matters” reveals a “dire” situation facing teacher candidates, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

Headshot of Tamara Sober, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Teaching and Learning.
Tamara Sober, Ph.D.

For aspiring teachers, the economic costs and financial burdens of entering the teaching profession are far more dire than we realize, according to a new report from researchers at the Bank Street College of Education. The report is the result of surveys conducted at Virginia Commonwealth University and 11 other institutions in seven states.

The report, “#MoreLearningLessDebt: Voices of Aspiring Teachers on Why Money Matters,” explores where teacher candidates need more support and identifies areas for improvement in their preparation. It also highlights potential changes in research, policy and practice that will benefit aspiring teachers, especially those from diverse backgrounds.

Findings in the report from a survey conducted in the 2019-2020 academic year, establish a national picture of the challenges of entering the teaching profession. These findings include:

  • A full 85% of graduate respondents and 76% of undergraduate respondents indicated that they worry ‘very frequently’ or ‘frequently’ about their financial situations.
  • More than 60% of respondents indicated that they need to work to support themselves while engaged in full-time clinical placements; a third of those work multiple jobs.
  • The day-to-day financial reality for a majority of respondents appears precarious. Asked to indicate the level of difficulty they would have in dealing with unexpected expenses, a majority expressed an inability to handle an expense above $250.

Tamara Sober, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, led data collection efforts for VCU as part of the survey. She said that several of these findings are particularly relevant for the VCU School of Education.

“For example, we know from our student demographics that more than 60% of our students need to work, and more than a third work multiple jobs,” she said. “If we don’t address that problem across the nation, fewer and fewer aspiring educators from diverse backgrounds are going to be able to enter the profession.”

“College debt is significantly higher for underrepresented minority students leaving college than it is for white students. The disparity ... cannot be ignored.”

In addition to survey findings, the report includes three actionable recommendations related to research, policy and practice:

  1. Research: Incorporate aspiring teachers’ financial realities into teacher preparation research. Start asking questions like: Who drops out because of finances? Does financial aid support program completion?
  2. Policy: Establish federal non-competitive grants, with quality assurance requirements, so states can support aspiring teachers through high-quality teacher residency pathways.
  3. Practice: Build partnerships between districts and preparation programs that design roles for aspiring teachers that align to program learning goals and include compensation.

Regarding policy, the report states that if the federal government invested in its future teachers, “the payoffs would be profound. An annual investment of $3-$6 billion would be enough to support every newly certified, newly hired teacher in the nation ... Such an investment has the potential to dramatically improve educational outcomes in the United States, at just a fraction of what we spend on Head Start, NASA or farm subsidies.”

Andrew P. Daire, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Education, said that the report reflects the disproportionate impact that financial concerns have on underrepresented minority students.

“College debt is significantly higher for underrepresented minority students leaving college than it is for white students. These largely Black and Latinx students also receive less pay in their jobs after college in most professions,” Daire said. “The disparity in debt is jaw-dropping and cannot be ignored. It also reminds us that it’s not about reducing the cost of higher education, it’s about graduates being paid more and developing better models and partnerships with school divisions.”

The survey was conducted across Colorado, California, Virginia, New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, and Washington. Institutions included large and small, public and private, and urban, rural and suburban. The survey received 1,242 responses, including undergraduate and graduate student populations.

The complete report can be found here.