CSU Takes Multi-Pronged Approach to Reduce Student Debt for STEM Teachers

What challenge is California State University (CSU) tackling? 

In today’s globally connected and technology-driven world, local school systems are encountering mounting pressures from colleges, businesses, families, and students themselves to ensure every child is provided with the educational experiences and knowledge they need for the jobs of the future. As a result, classroom teachers with strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) backgrounds are in high demand around the country. 

However, the teaching profession remains an infrequent career choice for college students or graduates with STEM training and interest, which often comes from the fact that PK-12 teaching is less lucrative in terms of pay and long-term earning potential than many other STEM professions. Even college majors who are intrinsically drawn to careers in education may be unwilling to pursue classroom teaching positions due to concerns about being able to pay off the student debt they accumulate, while balancing other financial obligations. 

Too often, however, college students are unaware of loan forgiveness or scholarship programs available to students, particularly those with training in the STEM fields, who commit to classroom teaching positions. The California State University (CSU) system, with 23 campuses across the state, is tackling this problem head on. CSU has established systematic approaches to ensure potential STEM teacher candidates meet specific eligibility requirements for, and have knowledge of and access to, the varied scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities available to them. CSU also works directly with state policymakers to support innovative policies that remove financial barriers that deter students from pursuing teaching. 

Do you have success stories you would like to share with other educators and practitioners?

Share Your Bright Spot

How is CSU addressing the need?

One key way that CSU addresses the need is by ensuring that students meet eligibility requirements for scholarship and loan forgiveness opportunities. For example, the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grant, worth a value of $16,000 over four years, is available to college students who are pursuing a teaching credential. The benefit of this opportunity is clear; however, complicated federal data reporting regulations were resulting in many of these grants converting to unsubsidized loans, landing students with an onerous debt. In partnership with the Chancellor’s Office data systems departments, the Teacher Education and Public School Programs Department instituted a significant change to how student data is reported to federal data systems, enabling all students earning a teaching credential who receive a federal TEACH grant to remain compliant with federal program requirements.

In addition to removing administrative barriers, CSU works to increase opportunities for scholarship and loan forgiveness for its students by working through its many campuses. The Chancellor’s Office provides webinars, workshops and associated resources to help campus leaders and grant writers develop high-quality proposals for programs that offer financial support for students. For example, many CSU students benefit from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Scholarship, which awards prospective STEM teachers with $10,000 per year for up to five years, and is only available to students at colleges and universities that have received NSF grants under it. Knowing the challenges in composing and navigating NSF grant proposals, CSU established a mentoring program to provide support for campuses and their faculty interested in applying for NSF grants for prospective STEM teachers. 

CSU raises awareness and catalyzes action at the student level by widely promoting programs, grants, and opportunities that can help defray the costs of college and increase the attractiveness of entering the profession. Students receive information through several avenues, including flyers, classroom presentations, workshops, and webinars. CSU also ensures student advisors are prepared to discuss programs at different stages of a students’ enrollment and provide proactive, direct assistance to qualifying students. 

Students are encouraged to pursue federal programs like the TEACH grant, the Robert Noyce Scholarship, and more generally focused programs like PELL grants. State programs like the Cal Grant Teaching Scholarship Program, which funds full tuition and fees for credential candidates, are also presented to students at multiple times on their pathways to credentials. 

In addition to helping students access existing opportunities, CSU actively engages with California policymakers to make financial aid for the development of new STEM teachers a priority. In 2016, CSU strongly supported legislation that provided funding for a four-year credential program, instead of the traditional five-year commitment, which had been four years to earn a degree with an additional year to obtain the teaching credential. This enables students to incur one less year of debt and secure a salary one year earlier – making preparing to enter the teaching profession significantly more viable to many students.

What is the impact of CSU?

When measuring impact of these efforts, CSU looks at system-wide growth in STEM teacher production. The data speak for itself, as the number of secondary math and science teacher graduates has doubled from 750 candidates to 1,500 annually in the last decade.

What’s next?

CSU projects that the recent legislation allowing students to earn a teaching certificate during the four undergraduate years will result in a 20 percent cost savings to students. An increase of students in this pathway from 150 in 2016 to 3,000 in 2020 is anticipated, taking advantage of twenty-six new four-year certification programs across the system.

Moving forward, CSU will continue to advocate for state scholarships and loan cancellation programs and opportunities, as well as for the restructuring of federal loan forgiveness programs, to make STEM teaching careers a more financially attractive and feasible career pathway for college students. For example, the CSU system is continuing to advocate for re-funding the California Assumption Program of Loans for Education (APLE) program that offered up to $18,000 in loan forgiveness for graduates entering STEM teaching jobs in high-needs schools in California. 

Additionally, CSU recognizes the key role its campuses play in raising awareness with students. The Chancellor’s Office plans to continue making visible the successes of campuses that have facilitated affordable teaching pathways for their graduates and to disseminate their stories. The system will share these successful case studies both across CSU and with other institutions and policymakers so that they can be used as a key component within strategies for expanding STEM teacher preparation.