ECU Education Program Highlighted for Innovation

A program led by East Carolina University’s College of Education was highlighted by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) for its innovative mission to grow the number of teachers in the region.

At this month’s Good Jobs for All Americans Summit hosted by the National Governors Association, the APLU shared a publication recognizing the college’s workforce development program, Partnership East.

The program partners with more than 40 school systems, 20 community colleges and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base to provide students with four-year degrees in either elementary, middle grades or special education from ECU. Students take two years of courses at one of the program’s partnering community colleges followed by two years of online classes provided by the College of Education. Students also participate in a 15-week, full-time internship.

East Carolina University graduate and Partnership East participant Nikki Manning reads a book to her first grade classroom at Benvenue Elementary School in Rocky Mount.

The program offers an affordable option for students to earn their bachelor’s degrees without having to leave their home region.

Since 2002, the program has graduated 877 students, with the majority staying in North Carolina, according to Vivian Covington, assistant dean for undergraduate affairs and educator preparation.

“Partnership East is doing exactly what it was designed to do,” Covington said. “It’s recruiting candidates from rural school districts, preparing them in those districts, and returning them to teach in those districts. With teacher shortages exacerbated by the unequal distribution of prepared teachers, this model is a must-have system for rural eastern North Carolina’s school systems.”

Provost Ron Mitchelson said he sees the program as a national model for teacher preparation.

“ECU’s College of Education has shown that this model can work on a statewide scale,” Mitchelson said. “With nearly 900 graduates, Partnership East provides needed online education services, affordable tuition options and quality instructional experiences that can be used nationwide to help prepare our next generation of teachers.”

APLU Vice President Sheila Martin addressed governors from across the country at the meeting on how public colleges and universities are using innovative tools and programs to provide graduates the necessary skills to confidently enter the workforce. The document she shared revealed that more than 70% of companies name talent availability as a primary factor for determining new investment locations.

Pitt County is one of many North Carolina counties that have faced difficulties in hiring and retaining teachers during the past decade. The Greenville Daily Reflector reported in March that the Pitt County School System has struggled to retain teachers in math, science and exceptional children positions, while nearby Onslow County had more than 200 teaching vacancies this year, according to WNCT.

College of Education graduates have impacted more than 9 million students since the university’s founding. Along with the Partnership East program, the college oversees innovative STEM education programs and the ECU Community School.