UIC is looking for a few good urban teachers.

With that in mind, the university’s College of Education decided to do something about the dearth of students committed to teaching in urban schools as well as the lack of minority teacher candidates.

So in 2006, the college hired a recruiter and gave him a specific charge: Find promising minority students and steer them into education—with the goal of increasing the pool of teachers the college could send to the most challenging CPS schools. Research shows that students of color are more likely to commit to teaching in lower-income African-American and Latino communities, UIC officials note.

“Traditionally, we get students from Waukegan who come here for a degree and when they get that degree, they go back to Waukegan to teach,” says Frank Collaso, hired as the college’s first-ever director of recruitment and retention. “But we want people to get a degree here [and] then go and teach in a Phillips High School.”

Victoria Chou, dean of UIC’s College of Education, points out the number of blacks in education schools, particularly males, is far too small. “We are trying to turn that around,” she says.

As yet, there’s no concrete evidence that Collaso’s work will accomplish that turnaround. But the college expects its increased visibility will spark an increase in the number of minority applicants.

Last year was his first full year on the job, Collaso notes, “and it was not a good year to gauge how effective anything was. After this year, we will be able to see.”

Not a tough sell

Collaso’s first task has been to hit the pavement, spreading the word about the college’s commitment to urban education and promoting the university’s support programs for minority students. His primary target: Students in community colleges and current teachers who may be interested in obtaining a master’s degree or doctorate in education.

“Recruiting has been difficult,” Collaso says. “I’m going up against a perception that UIC has not always been friendly or supportive to African Americans and Latinos [as prospective students].”

Still, over the past year, Callaso has built relationships with about 75 community college students who are interested in transferring to UIC. Collaso says he hasn’t had to do a hard sell to get them interested in education. Just exposing them to the idea of becoming a teacher, and letting them know about UIC’s education program, has been enough.

“Many of them didn’t even think about education as an option until they talked to me and picked up a brochure,” he says.

Collaso works with the students and their academic advisors to let them know what courses they need to take to make the transition. So far, though, only two of the students have all the courses needed. “That has been the challenge—that they stay on track [with the necessary classes] so we can get them over here,” Collaso concedes.

To attract current teachers who are interested in furthering their education, the college has begun hosting “open houses” for the master’s and doctoral programs.

Attracting the highest-achieving students, however, remains a challenge. Financial aid and scholarships would go a long way toward bringing these students into the education program, Collaso says. “High-achievers can get a full ride somewhere else. We’d like to be able to say, ‘We will give you a full-ride here.’ ”

The university and the College of Education are considering the option of admitting prospective teachers into the program as early as their freshman year, Collaso notes. Students are currently admitted as juniors.

“It could be a couple of years for this to happen, but if it does, then there would be a focus on [recruiting] high school students.”

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