SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – As Missouri’s teacher shortage continues, colleges in the Ozarks are working to make it easier for students to pursue that career. This includes Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC), who recently announced it’s updating its teaching degree to offer easier graduation requirements.

In OTC’s Associate of Arts in Teacher Education program, students will be required to have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of 2.0, and a 3.0 GPA in content and education classes. Also part of the program is a $10,000 teacher recruitment grant from Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The grant will go towards giving out 19 scholarships worth $500, and getting the word out about OTC’s new degree.

Nontraditional student Susan Iavolo tells OzarksFirst she has some bad grades on her transcript, and OTC’s new degree will help make her dreams of becoming an art teacher come true.

“It’s a major, major thing for me because I didn’t want to have to switch to a different degree,” Iavolo said. “This is definitely what I’m passionate about. To know that I can move forward, actually finish out my degree here and move on to [Missouri State University] afterwards with that degree to get my bachelor’s to become an art teacher is really huge for me.”

Iavolo dropped out of OTC classes two times. She says it’s tough being a student and a mother at the same time. These experiences gave Iavolo bad grades, which is why OTC’s new program makes her hopeful about her career.

“Definitely more tangible than it was before. Before it was like, ‘Oh, I have to keep on getting these better grades.’ I would have had to take class after class after class to climb that rope. Now it’s definitely more attainable.”

Angie Miller, an OTC department chair and instructor of teacher education, tells OzarksFirst that OTC wouldn’t be able to do this without the Missouri State Board of Education. In 2021, DESE removed its 2.75 cumulative GPA requirement.

Miller says the state’s teacher shortage was a problem long before the pandemic, and OTC wants more people to be able to pursue a teaching job.

“I fear for public education that if we don’t have qualified teachers the state will make changes that will allow unqualified teachers to become teachers,” Miller said. “There are still many mountains to climb to assess that a person is qualified to be a teacher. That hasn’t changed.”

Miller tells OzarksFirst in order to become a teacher, you have to pass a general education test and a content test with a qualifying score. You also would have to teach for 12 weeks or more unpaid. Aspiring teachers are also expected to have a master’s degree.

Dr. Natalie Precise, dean of Drury University’s school of education, tells OzarksFirst the Panthers are also following DESE’s dropped cumulative GPA requirement.

“This change will for sure help those students that have a GPA from a past experience in college that might be looming over them,” Dr. Precise said. “[They will] be able to come in, start the new program and become an amazing teacher.”

Dr. Precise says DESE removing its cumulative GPA requirement was an ideal move for what has been a growing problem in the state.

“The state of Missouri is experiencing a teacher shortage. I get calls almost daily from local principals looking for teachers in a specific area. I think we’ve always experienced somewhat of a teacher shortage. I feel it’s more prevalent now and everyone’s trying to help in some way to combat that shortage.”

Evangel University tells OzarksFirst it received a $30,000 teacher recruitment grant from DESE. On February 21, Erin Hedlun wrote in an Evangel press release that the University will use the grant to address the shortage and “encourage the recruitment of more male candidates and candidates of color as well as prospective teachers in hard-to-staff content areas.”

Missouri State University is also fighting the shortage through new programs. Those include: