Teach for America Recruitment Shrinks for Third Year in a Row
On April 12, 2016, Teach for America (TFA) President Elisa Villanueva Beard posted a letter on TFA’s website. Beard’s letter included the news that TFA’s recruitment is down for the third year in a row:
At our recruitment peak in 2013, 57,000 people applied to TFA, yielding a corps of 5,800. In 2014, for the first time in more than a decade, our recruitment season took an abrupt dip at our final deadline.
Recruitment in 2015 saw further decline, with 44,000 applications yielding a corps of 4,100.
The downward trend in recruitment continued through this year. We closed our 2016 recruitment season with 37,000 applicants. While we won’t know the final corps size for several months, we do know it will be smaller than last year’s by several hundred corps members. This will impact our school partners and our regions, some of which will choose to make organizational changes to ensure our costs are appropriate for our scale.
As it is, TFA is cutting back on its national and regional staff As Emma Brown of the Washington Post noted on March 21, 2016, many of the 150 TFA staffers who are being cut plan to depart on Friday, April 15, 2016.
Even though TFA is known as a major player in efforts to secure a place for market-driven reform in American education, Beard believes market forces are in part the reason that TFA recruitment is suffering:
Tackling educational inequity ranks below other issues that concern young Americans. Companies have become much better at marketing themselves to a socially conscious generation with rising college debt.
Still, Beard hints at a “toxic debate surrounding education.”However, Beard does not acknowledge TFA as part of the toxin. Instead, TFA’s critics are the toxin– despite the fact that increasingly more criticism is emerging from TFA alumni who see TFA as the corporate reform incubus and diversity displacer that it is.
Here is Beard’s spin:
Additionally, the toxic debate surrounding education—and attacks on organizations that seek to bring more people to the field—is undeniably pushing future leaders away from considering education as a space where they can have real impact.
The bottom line is that for TFA to exist, solid recruitment numbers is “the bottom line”– the fewer the recruits, the lower the profits.
In order to try to combat those lost
profits recruits, Beard notes that TFA is changing its recruitment strategy to try to reach a more solid recruitment pool (as opposed to a larger pool that needs trimming by 90 percent) and to recruit college sophomores and juniors rather than targeting college seniors. As Beard writes:
We are changing how we recruit.
We’re rethinking how we communicate with prospects, and simplifying our application process. We’re doubling down on our recruiting investment by putting more resources toward appealing to prospects who will be competitive in our process.
We’re engaging college students as sophomores and juniors, instead of waiting until their senior year. Companies are shifting recruitment to ensure college students have internships and other opportunities to spend time experiencing what the job is like before they commit. We need to do the same.
However, in the end, it might be ill-advised for TFA recruitment to allow potential TFAers to become familiar too soon with the realities of being ill prepared to spend two years as a full time teacher based on TFA’s crash-course, five-week prep. It just might shock many younger co-eds into escaping TFA before signing on that proverbial dotted line– and it might also backfire on TFA as some change their majors to become legitimately-trained classroom teachers.
We’ll see as TFA tosses some cargo from the decks of its seemingly-sinking ship in 2016 and strategizes for improved recruitment numbers in 2017.
Coming June 2016 from TC Press: