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CLEVELAND (WJW) — As a new school year begins, many students will start with a substitute teacher amid an ongoing nationwide teacher shortage.

However, educators point to hopeful signs the problem will soon improve as local universities work to attract the next generation of teachers with incentives including accelerated programs, dual licensures and even tuition-free graduate degrees.

“We’re also in the process of making an announcement here soon about the ability to have and recruit students to come into a Masters of Education program completely tuition-free, if they are interested in working in the STEM fields to become mathematics teachers, science teachers,” said Steve Dittmore, dean of the College of Education and Health Sciences at Baldwin Wallace University.

The program is expected to launch next summer and would cover nearly $20,000 in tuition.

At John Carroll University, a similar effort is underway thanks to a grant called “Addressing Ohio’s Teacher Shortages.” University administrators said it provides tuition scholarships to graduate students pursuing teacher education.

According to the Ohio Education Association, there are 17,000 fewer people employed in K-12 education in the state than prior to the pandemic.

Several local universities including Kent State, Baldwin Wallace University, John Carroll University and Ursuline College report steady or increased enrollment among education majors. Cleveland State University did not respond to a request for enrollment information. A spokesperson for Ohio State University said they would not have enrollment figures to share until after the start of the fall semester.

“It was more than imagined. It was a COVID year, but we had the largest enrollment in education in licensure areas that we’ve ever had, and that was going back 20 years,” said Marc Gray, director of the Master Apprenticeship Program at Ursuline College, referring to last school year.

Gray said Ursuline College offers a one-year accelerated program for graduate candidates. Several graduates were recently hired, he said, to fill positions in Shaker Heights and Cleveland schools.

Classes began Monday at Baldwin Wallace University. Administrators said another unique program offered helps attract students pursuing education degrees. 

“One of the things that we started that is relatively unique in Ohio, we think, is a dual-licensure program that allows students to get two different licenses: one as a primary and one as an intervention specialist,” said Dittmore. 

Despite reports of ongoing shortages, political culture wars in the classroom and salary considerations, among others, the critical career field remains desirable.

” … Walking the halls and just kind of being in the building today with the students, there’s definitely a lot of enthusiasm and energy around those students that are here. They are excited to be in the classroom and be educators,” Dittmore said.