Hispanic female teacher sitting at a table with elementary school students.

Partnership with CU Denver shores up educator workforce in rural communities

To curb Colorado’s dire teacher shortage in rural communities, the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) and the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) are expanding a successful educator preparation program that allows students to earn a bachelor’s degree in education without leaving home.

The Partnership for Rural Educator Preparation, or T-PREP, uses a stackable degree model in which students can transfer associate degree credits to CU Denver and work toward a bachelor’s degree and licensure in elementary or early childhood education. The “2+2” program currently serves students attending Trinidad State College (TSC) and Otero College in La Junta and will begin accepting students from Northeastern Junior College (NJC) in Sterling this fall.

Working with CU Denver, we meet students where they are while building a sustainable educator pipeline in rural communities.
- Landon Pirius, CCCS Vice Chancellor
“This is a prime example of what we can achieve through strong higher education partnerships,” said Landon Pirius, CCCS vice chancellor. “Working with CU Denver, we meet students where they are while building a sustainable educator pipeline in rural communities. We are thrilled to continue T-PREP’s expansion to Northeastern Colorado.”

Educator shortages have plagued Colorado’s rural regions for years—a trend that has become more acute throughout the pandemic. Rural districts and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) had 275 open educator positions in 2020, up from 253 in 2019 and 189 in 2018, according to Colorado Department of Education data.

Otero piloted the first T-PREP program in the fall of 2016. The program has already produced eight licensed professionals with 30 more in the pipeline today. Five students have completed TSC’s program since 2019, and 24 are projected to graduate by Spring 2023.

“The T-PREP Program is truly a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Shayla Brown, a T-PREP student at Otero. “Not only do you get immediate, meaningful classroom experience, but you also get to work in our local communities and learn from those who actually teach in our rural area. This program is forward-thinking and dedicated to building up educators who are knowledgeable and well-equipped to enter the teaching profession.”

NJC’s Celeste Delgado-Pelton, the chair of the Liberal Arts Department, and Donna Brady-Lawler, a professor of early childhood education, have been working closely with CU Denver faculty to launch the T-TPREP program and expect it to make an immediate impact.

“The shortages are everywhere, but in rural areas, it’s so much worse,” Delgado-Pelton said. “We have teachers coming out of retirement to help. I have students who are working as substitutes right now while they’re getting their associate degrees. This program is really a godsend for the schools in this area.”

T-PREP’s unique model means future educators won’t have to move to the Front Range—or break the bank—to earn a four-year degree, Brady-Lawler said. Students pay community college tuition rates and have access to financial and academic support throughout their course of study. To accommodate adult learners, NJC will offer more night classes and “hybrid” schedules that mix online and in-person learning, an important component for students entering “people fields” like education, Brady-Lawler explained.

What’s most heartening is the buzz around the program. Local superintendents and principals are already counting on future T-PREP graduates to lead their classrooms, Brady-Lawler and Delgado-Pelton said.

“The children will really benefit from teachers who are reflective, intentional, have good background knowledge, and know how to do classroom management,” said Brady-Lawler. “My hope is that we’re training really high-level professionals, and that the excitement for the program continues.”

To learn more about the T-PREP program, visit the Otero and TSC website.