The University of Virginia at Wise has asked the State Council of Higher Education to start a master’s in education program by fall 2020 which could help 30 more teachers in Southwest Virginia earn advanced degrees every year.

“What we’ve found is that teachers trained from UVA-Wise tend to stay in the region and they want to get their education here in the region, so for us to meet our teacher shortage, we felt it was important for us to have our local teacher education program,” said Donna Price Henry, chancellor of UVA-Wise.

There’s a statewide teacher shortage, but Henry said there’s an added challenge in Southwest Virginia: Only about 20 percent of teachers in the region have advanced degrees. 

In other parts of the state, like Northern Virginia, almost all teachers have advanced degrees, she said.

To become a teacher, students get an undergraduate degree in the subject area they want to teach and then have to enter a graduate program to get an education degree.

Undergraduate degree-holders can be hired as a teacher under a provisional license and then have three years to get their master’s degree.

The council recently approved 26 new four-year teacher education programs at eight public universities and college to make the process faster and more accessible.

In the New River Valley, only two colleges offer master’s programs in education: Bluefield College and Radford University. 

“We have a lot of teachers hired provisionally, so our master’s program allows those students to go in as non-degree seeking in order to get their full license,” said Thomas Brewster, dean of Bluefield’s School of Education.

UVA-Wise’s program would allow for the same.

“Teachers now are expected to meet the needs of all students,” Henry said. “So while they might have undergrad experience, getting a certificate program in another field or focused on curriculum development brings them that other (opportunity).”

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach.