AUSTIN (KXAN) — Money and time — those are the biggest factors that can keep aspiring teachers from going after classroom jobs. A program called UTeach Accelerate at the University of Texas is working to fill that void by covering even more costs for accelerated teacher certifications. 

Heather Harris joined the program in fall 2021. She has a bachelor’s in biology and master’s in biotechnology and was an electronics technician in the Navy for six years. At the height of the pandemic, she wanted a change. 

“In 2020 everything was chaotic, and I did a lot of soul searching and realized I wanted to give back with my degree,” Harris said.  

She joined UTeach Accelerate, a fast-track program with coursework and student teaching that certifies STEM teachers in as little as a year. 

“I really wanted to hit the ground running. I wanted to learn the skills and develop as a teacher as quickly as I could,” Harris said. 

That’s crucial, as numbers show the state of Texas has been losing teachers for years with trouble retaining first-year teachers.

According to the Texas Education Agency, at the start of this school year, Texas lost more than 42,000 teachers to attrition. New hires barely covered the number of teachers lost. In the last decade and a half, there was only one time the number of teachers lost outnumbered the new hires. That was the 2011-12 school year, when the economy was down and still feeling the effects of the Great Recession. 

“Right now, we are in uncertain times. There are large shortages across our nation, so the question is what are we going to do about it,” said Ariel Taylor, assistant professor of practice and UTeach Accelerate director. 

It has been a full-circle experience for Taylor, who was once in the UTeach Accelerate program and is now the director.

She helped the program expand grant funding to cover tuition costs — up to $20,000 per student.

The goal is to snag STEM degree holders or college juniors and seniors and accelerate their path to the classroom.

The program is also adding money for a computer science (CS) pathway in the fall.

Educators in the program hope it prepares non-CS majors for secondary certification in CS and offers up to $5,000 in stipends. As more tech companies come to Austin, the program’s goal is to prepare students for those careers. 

“We need to be able to fill those jobs with our own people, so why not raise our students with great CS teachers who can inspire them and make them excited about going into CS careers,” Taylor said. 

The program has about 25 slots for its next cohort for UTeach Accelerate.  

According to UTeach, 49 universities have implemented the program model, producing hundreds of teachers each year.