Skip to main content

Teacher Shortage: Why Education Graduate Degrees are Important

December 3, 2018

Teaching is one of the most significant careers a person can choose. Teachers shape future generations by acting as role models, educators, and pillars of support for children across the country. Yet, despite the growing demand, there is a teacher shortage occurring across all states. The importance of education-based graduate degrees, as well as experience, play a major role in the retention-attrition teaching balance. Pursuing graduate studies may be a first step for anyone interested in answering the call to alleviate the shortage problem.

Teachers Are in Demand

The need for more teachers is undeniably on the rise. According to a 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI), the rise in demand is a “function of changes in student enrollment, shifts in pupil-teacher ratios, and, most significantly, high levels of teacher attrition.” That same report projected a large increase in the 2017–18 need for teachers, with annual hires averaging at least 300,000 teachers per year.

The demand for teachers is due to a myriad of factors, including decisions made at the school level, changes in student behavior, and, on an even larger scale, the past recession. Here are some fast facts about just how many teachers are needed:


According to the LPI report, many districts may reinstate programs or classes that suffered cuts during the Great Recession. This could mean up to 145,000 needed teachers on top of annual hiring needs.

More Students

Rising student enrollments, due in part to reinstated programs, will require new teachers. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teaching jobs across all levels are expected to rise between 2016 and 2026. The BLS reports that kindergarten and elementary school teaching jobs are projected to rise 7 percent, adding at least 116,300 new jobs. Meanwhile, the BLS middle school report and high school report estimates teaching jobs are expected to increase 8 percent, with a combined total of 124,100 new teaching positions opening up. Altogether, that’s almost a quarter of a million new teaching jobs that will need to be filled.

The Teacher Shortage in America

High demand is not being met due to a shortage of teaching candidates. The shortage is caused by a few key factors: lower teacher education enrollments and attrition being the major ones.

Education Enrollment

According to the 2016 LPI report, teacher education enrollments dropped from 691,000 to 451,000 between 2009 and 2014. This 35 percent reduction equates to a decrease of 240,000 professionals headed toward a teaching career. The report also notes that 2016 was projected to have the lowest number of available teachers in ten years—somewhere between 180,000 and 212,000 teachers.


The rate of U.S. teachers leaving the profession is high, around 8 percent per year, compared to high-retention countries like Finland, Singapore, and Canada where only about 3 to 4 percent of teachers leave each year, as noted in the LPI report.

The Importance of Pursuing Teaching and Education Policy Studies

As mentioned, teacher attrition is high, adding to the already critical teacher shortage. A report by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) found that education and preparation play an important role in the attrition rates of beginning teachers. The report described the following examples:

  • First-year teachers who took more courses in teaching strategies and methods were less likely to leave. For example, those who took three or four method courses were 36 percent less likely to leave their jobs than those who didn’t take any teaching method courses.
  • The amount of prior teaching practice was strongly related to attrition. Beginner teachers who had a semester of practice were over three times less likely to leave than those who had little (less than a semester’s worth) to no experience.
  • Preparation in the four pedagogical types also impacted whether new teachers left or stayed. The four pedagogical types which teachers benefit from learning include preparation in selecting and adapting instructional materials, formal feedback on their own teaching, coursework in child psychology or learning theory, and observation of others’ classroom teaching, according to the CPRE report. Those with more extensive preparation were more likely to stay. For example, those who had observed others’ classroom teaching were 65 percent less likely to leave than those who had not.

Clearly, it is important for educators to pursue teaching and education policy studies. Those who do are more likely to stay with their career over time.

Master’s Degree: Preparation for Success

Education and experience go a long way in preparing a future teacher for success. The following are just a few of the ways in which a master’s degree in teaching can help future teachers succeed in their career.

Increased Location Flexibility

No matter where a teacher is looking to work, they need a bachelor’s degree at the minimum. As of March 2010, no state requires a master’s degree in order to start teaching. However, according to this Career Trend article, several states do require a teacher to begin working toward a master’s degree after the start of their first teaching contract. This requirement means that teachers already holding a master’s degree can teach at any school in any state, without further degree requirements.

Increased Salary

Teachers with master’s degrees usually earn more than teachers holding only bachelor’s degrees, according to the Houston Chronicle. The article notes that most school districts provide elementary, middle, and high school teachers holding master’s degrees with supplemental pay, also called a bonus. The article goes on to say that in one school district, new teachers with master’s degrees received a $2,991 supplement in addition to their normal salary in 2012.

Increased salaries for teachers holding master’s degrees vary state by state as well as between the public and private school sectors. However, increased salaries are common for teachers who hold master’s degrees and can significantly aid a teacher on his or her career journey.

Increased Chances of Career Longevity

As mentioned previously, pedagogical preparation and experience in teaching strategies and methods play a huge role in whether a teacher continues on or not after his or her first year.

Luckily, a master’s degree in teaching focuses on those pedagogical elements and more. For instance, American University’s Master of Arts in Teaching curriculum includes a multidisciplinary approach to teaching STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education and focuses on advancements in neurodevelopment that impact students and teaching styles. Practical experience is at the heart of the Master of Arts in Teaching program, with foundational courses in psychology and human development interwoven with real-life classroom applications and training settings.

With teacher shortages across the country, it has never been more important or more necessary for teachers to come to class prepared. A master’s degree in teaching holds that critical combination of education and experience which helps prepare teachers not only for their future career longevity and success, but for the future of their students as well.

American University, College of Arts & Sciences: Master of Arts in Teaching

American University, Master of Arts in Teaching

Bureau of Labor Statistics, High School Teachers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Middle School Teachers

Consortium for Policy Research in Education

The Houston Chronicle

Institute of Education Sciences

Learning Policy Institute