Cover Story: Forward in Four

October 17, 2023

A major change in the Teacher Preparation Program is complementing other initiatives to support educator recruitment and retention

By Lauren Knapp

The Michigan State University Teacher Preparation Program has undergone a series of changes over the last several years. In fact, in the previous issue of the New Educator (2022), we shared about the then-latest redesign of the program.

Only a few months later, in November 2022, the MSU College of Education announced perhaps the largest change yet.

After 30 years, the renowned program transitioned from a five-year to a four-year model. Many MSU students were able to transition from the five- to the four-year program in Spring 2022. The first class to enter MSU under this framework began in Fall 2023.

Students celebrate as they walk out of their graduation ceremony.

Over time, there have been adjustments in curricula and new — and still changing — statewide mandates. The bachelor’s degree offerings in Elementary, Secondary and Special Education have been modified again, and then again.

And yet, throughout these changes, there has been a constant.

The Teacher Preparation Program is dedicated to preparing educators who are ready to lead in and out of the classroom on day one. This is the new era of the program — but the result, as ever, will be Spartan educators who are committed to and knowledgeable in the work of preparing the next generation of students.


The data were promising.1

Graduates from the MSU Teacher Preparation Program consistently outperform peers at other Michigan institutions on the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification. On average, our alums rate nearly 10% higher on the test.

And once they are in their roles, Spartan educators are effective. Several surveys and analyses name our graduates as “highly effective” in their roles.

But MSU leaders could not ignore other truths.

Spartan educator reads to her students in a Lansing-based classroom.
Madison Payne, B.A. ’21 (Elementary Education), reads to students at Pattengill Biotechnical Magnet School in 2023.

There is a growing national teacher shortage and a drop in enrollment in teacher preparation programs across the state.

According to a June 2023 report by MSU’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative (EPIC),2 Michigan teacher preparation programs have experienced “enrollment decline by 67% between 2008-09 and 2016-17. This is far higher than the 35% decline nationally and exceeds decreases in all but one other state.”

For special education, the data is arguably more strained. “For public schools, [one of] the most difficult teaching positions to fill for the 2022-23 school year [was] special education,” according to a 2022 National Center for Education Statistics press release.3 “Seventy-eight percent of schools offering these positions reported it was either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat difficult,’ respectively, to hire fully certified teachers in these areas.”

At MSU, enrollment is starting to increase — a positive sign.

But the EPIC report continued: “fewer candidates become certified to teach in Michigan each year.” Moreover, “there is [a] substantial racial imbalance between Michigan’s teaching and student populations, as 90% of the teacher workforce is white, relative to 64% of Michigan’s K-12 students.”


The four-year model attempts to resolve some of those issues.

It builds upon recent changes, such reformatting and introducing courses to focus on social justice, diversity and equity in schools.

Highlights in the four-year model include: 

  • Students enter classrooms for immersive learning early into their academic journey. Depending on if students are pursuing Elementary, Secondary or Special Education, they can enter as soon as their second year. 
  • The internship remains. Previously, Spartans completed the year-long internship after graduating from MSU but before becoming fully certified teachers. They also took graduate-level courses. Now, students have a full-year internship during their senior year while they complete undergraduate-level coursework. At the end of their fourth year, they graduate from MSU and can be certified as teachers by the State of Michigan. 
  • Student well-being is more centered. The new internship model allows flex days for supporting students’ mental and financial health, as well as for completing classwork. 
  • TPP and MSU requirements are better aligned. Some education-related courses now count toward MSU’s general education requirements, allowing for greater program flexibility and more electives. 
  • Coursework is future focused. Expanded coursework helps future educators better support their future students with disabilities and bi- and multilingual learners.

And then there is the cost.

By one estimate, eliminating the fifth year saves students more than $17,000 in tuition alone, and likely thousands more in travel and living expenses.4

“The new Teacher Preparation Program is attentive to our college’s commitment to accessible, equitable and high-quality education and to the growing teacher shortage,” said Dean Jerlando F. L. Jackson. “We want to be both responsive to needs in our community and of our students, and to also continue our legacy of producing outstanding, well-prepared educators who are ready to lead in K-12 classrooms.”

In fact, it was in part because of students that the changes came about in the first place.

Internally, discussions had been going on for some time as to the benefits and limitations of the five-year model. The faculty examined multiple avenues for program improvement, such as early and integrated clinical experiences and a deeper focus on social justice at every stage of coursework.

When students started voicing concerns about the program structure, leaders in the MSU Department of Teacher Education (for Elementary and Secondary Education) and the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education (for Special Education) hosted listening sessions to learn from students and alums: what they loved, what they would have changed.

“We’re committed to listening,” said Kyle Greenwalt, associate professor and associate director of Teacher Preparation Programs. “We are committed to continually innovating our program. We will never stop iterating to make it better for our Spartan educators and the students they will go on to serve.”

A student eagerly raises a hand during a classroom session.

Under the five-year model, students loved the focus on time spent in Michigan K-12 classrooms, learning how to be a teacher by teaching and observing teachers in action.

But, the cost and the time to finally become a certified teacher was a persistent concern. They were often cited as reasons why students left (or did not enroll in) the program.

Martina Chimento is a peer advisor in the college’s Student Affairs Office (SAO) and, with full-time staff advisors, supports current and prospective students for the Teacher Preparation Program.

“When I’d say it was a five-year program, parents especially were shocked,” said Chimento, a junior who is majoring in elementary education. “They understood the value – but they were really interested to hear about a possible four-year version of the program. The fifth year was a huge factor for economic and time reasons.”

Mike Haslett, the assistant director for SAO, agreed. The previous format was also not responsive to real world problems – namely the teacher shortage.

“The five-year model has remained incredibly strong in terms of preparing teachers, but the cost and length led to so many students foregoing their student teaching internship to begin their careers,” he said. “Once school districts began to hire individuals with no formal student teaching experience, the move to a four-year model became increasingly urgent.”


The program aims to get prepared teachers into classrooms faster – and it is also reformatting to keep prospective educators in the program.

“Only a fraction of the students who take an initial education course become student teachers,” said the same EPIC report. “While 30% of white students progress from initial education courses to student teaching, this is only true for 7% of Black students, 14% of Asian students and 23% of Latino students.” 

MSU is addressing this in a few ways.

As highlighted in the 2022 New Educator, MSU revamped some courses and introduced others with a focus on social justice and equity. Previously, students took TE 250, a long-standing course that explored issues of culture, power and equity in schools.

Now, students take a one-year learning experience consisting of two new courses (TE 101 and 102) and three one-credit seminars on social justice. Social justice and equity are thoughtfully integrated throughout course and clinical experiences across the program.

Social justice has been a core factor of the College of Education’s existence — and its future. It has prominence in the College of Education Strategic Plan, launched in 2023,5 and in the Department of Teacher Education’s Core Principles, developed in 2018.6

While the Teacher Preparation Program is headquartered in the Department of Teacher Education and the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology and Special Education, its impact is felt all over campus: nearly 20 departments are connected to the Teacher Preparation Program through affiliate courses and faculty.

“Coursework changes are a way to make our commitment to social justice explicit,” said Tonya Bartell. She is an associate professor and associate director of elementary programs. “Other teacher preparation programs might have social justice as part of their mission statement or have opportunities to take courses in English as a second language or special education. But it is often not a requirement, or it is not finishable in four years.”

The reframed program also gives options for more college-based electives – that means more opportunities for courses students want to take.

It also means educators are more prepared for the types of classrooms they will enter.

“We condensed, reformatted and added classes across our curriculum,” said Emily Bouck, associate dean for research and director of special education. “For example, we amplified special education coursework to include a greater emphasis on classroom management, which has become an increasing challenge since the onset of COVID-19.”

Bouck reiterated the change from five- to four-years across Elementary, Secondary and Special Education programming was not a directive, but a choice.

“We used data to inform our progress,” she said. “We looked at student, alumni and school district feedback, as well as data from external organizations such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Through this program, we are producing high quality educators faster.”

The news is welcome to future Spartans.

“Prospective students’ and parents’ eyes light up when we talk about the new program,” said Haslett. “Overnight, this program became so much easier to recruit for, especially considering the new [state-provided] fellowship and stipend available to many of our students.” 


MSU’s changes coincide with statewide efforts to foster growth in the educational sector.

Among a series of initiatives announced in June 2023,7 the state is investing: 

$25 million in educator fellowships and $50 million in teacher stipends. The MI Future Educator Stipend was launched in 2022 and provides a $9,600 stipend per semester to student teachers pursuing a degree.8

$225 million in one-time funding to repay student loans for employees who work directly with students.

The Fiscal Year 2024 state school aid budget also listed $50 million over five years for “developing and implementing mentoring programs to support and retain new teachers school counselors and administrators.”


In fall 2023, MSU launched MSU-GR Community Teachers. Through this program, high schoolers can get a head start on obtaining their education degree by dual enrolling through Grand Rapids Community College before finishing their studies at MSU.

“We want to encourage students from communities with a great need of teachers and teacher diversity to go back to these communities,” said Gail Richmond, director of the Teacher Preparation Program and one of the initiative’s coordinators.

Community Teachers adds to other, ongoing college recruiting initiatives from the college’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Partnerships

  • Early Success Scholars supports incoming first-year students from urban areas pursuing degrees in education or kinesiology. The four-week summer program focuses on college preparedness and gives participants a “glimpse of college life by living, learning and dining on MSU’s campus.”
  • Teacher Education Academy, a similar summer-based program, is for future Spartan educators.


Catie Dunn, who began her Spartan journey in fall 2023 and is pursuing special education, cannot wait to see the changes come to fruition.

“In four years, I’ll be a teacher!” she said, days before starting her first year at MSU. Dunn is also part of the Urban Educators Cohort Program. When applying to MSU, she anticipated the five-year model. She was pleased when she learned of the programmatic change while preparing her course schedule. “I am going to one of the best-ranked colleges, and I get to finish one year early? What a bonus!”

Miles Carlson, who also began at MSU in fall 2023 and is pursuing elementary education with a minor in Korean, agreed. Carlson’s family has a long history of Spartan alums, but Carlson will be the first educator.

“I love that MSU is making a lot of changes. Knowing that I have to go to school for one less year and can become a teacher sooner reduces my stress levels.”

These cumulative initiatives, programmatic changes and even more updates are some of the ways MSU is trying to address program recruitment and retention. The outcomes, they hope, will go on to influence the teacher shortage to help the next generation of learners. 

Teacher Preparation Program leaders, including Director Gail Richmond, Associate Director Kyle Greenwalt, Associate Director of Elementary Programs Tonya Bartell and Director of Special Education Emily Bouck, say the changes signal a new chapter in the college. 

In four years, I’ll be a teacher!

– Catie Dunn, Teacher Prep Student

They believe the four-year model is taking the best of what MSU is known for — immersive and frequent experiences in K-12 classrooms and rigorous curricula that focus on supporting learners of all backgrounds — and adapting it to meet the education field where it is today.

But if history has taught us anything, it is that this is not the last we will hear of changes happening in the Teacher Preparation Program.

MSU innovates, reflects upon it, and then iterates upon those changes. Over, and over again.

Because yes — more change will come. And it is going to be informed by evidence. Leaders will look at qualitative and quantitative data, examine national reports, respond to statewide changes, and turn to the students and alums who make the program what it is — and who are the reason the college works so hard to get it right and then to make it better.

“This is just the beginning,” Kyle Greenwalt added. “We’re entering a new period of innovation.”


Jacqueline Gardner, Ph.D. ‘20 (Education Policy), co-authored research on the educator labor market in Michigan, with an emphasis on the educator shortage.


1. Michigan State University College of Education Performance Data: (information obtained August 4, 2023) 

2. Kilbride, Tara, Strunk, Katharine O., Rogers, Salem & Wasif, Usamah. (2023). Tracking Progress through Michigan’s Teacher Preparation Pipeline. Education Policy Innovation Collaborative.

EPIC has conducted more research on teacher shortage, including insights specifically on Michigan in the Michigan Teacher Shortage Study. Visit for more. 

3. National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Too few candidates applying for teaching jobs the primary hiring challenge for more than two-thirds of public schools entering the 2022-23 school year.

4. The cost of tuition for the internship year in academic year 2022-2023 was estimated to be $17,280.

5. Michigan State University College of Education (2023) Strategic Plan

6. Michigan State University Department of Teacher Education. (2020). Core Principles Statement, Department of Teacher Education.

7. Ackley, Martin. (June 29, 2023). Governor, legislature agree to school budget that builds on growth. Michigan Department of Education.–school-budget-that-builds-on-growth

8. Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Future Educator Stipend. (information obtained: August 3, 2023)