A nonprofit online university is encouraging New Mexicans interested in teaching or who already are teaching but want to up their qualifications to apply for a scholarship that would cover up to $4,000 of tuition over a two-year period.

Western Governors University’s Teachers College is offering 500 “We Love Teachers” scholarships to new and incoming students this year. According to Linda Battles, south regional director at WGU, 100 scholarships have already been doled out.

At the Teachers College, Battles said enrollment took a dive during the coronavirus pandemic but is beginning to rebound.

“We typically try to jump-start enrollment in the Teachers College to encourage more teachers to go into the profession,” Battles said in an interview. “Because for many years we have not only in New Mexico, but nationally, have been seeing a teacher shortage. But the pandemic has really worsened that teacher shortage nationally and in New Mexico.”

A report released by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation regarding Northern New Mexico’s teacher retention found 135 classrooms during the 2019-20 school year were staffed by unlicensed teachers. It also noted “the majority of Northern New Mexico’s schools are staffed by teachers who are committed to their profession and to their students but who are also frustrated by a lack of respect and support for teachers and by low salaries.”

In 2019, New Mexico increased teacher salaries to between $40,000 and $60,000 depending on licensing and education.

Of the 33,000 students enrolled in the university’s Teachers College, nearly 100 live in New Mexico. The college has teaching students in 22 New Mexico counties, with the majority residing in Bernalillo and Sandoval counties.

Battles said 50 percent of students enrolled at WGU are also eligible for federal financial aid. The college has a range of education programs, with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in specialized areas like science education and special education.

“It’s a wonderful proposition, particularly for those working adults who can’t give up their daytime jobs. They’ve got to keep working,” Battles added.

WGU relies on competency-based education. According to WGU’s website, competency-based education seeks to measure skills and has students move through classes once they’ve demonstrated through testing that they know the material.

People who have submitted their application to the Teachers College and

were admitted are welcome to apply for the opportunity, which can be applied to undergraduate and graduate programs. It will be applied to student accounts at $1,000 per six-month term at the school, which Battles said typically costs $3,500 per term in flat-rate tuition. Because the university relies on rolling admissions, those interested in enrolling can apply virtually anytime and be admitted the first of the month. Typically, students finish their degrees within 2½ years, Battles said.

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