Assessing the Special Education Faculty Shortage: The Crisis in California-A Statewide Study of the Professoriate

Article excerpt

The imbalance of supply and demand for special education faculty continues to be a national concern (Smith, Pion, Tyler, & Gilmore, 2003; Smith, Pion, Tyler, Sindelar, & Rosenberg, 2001). While the number of earned doctoral degrees awarded in special education in the United States has remained steady since 1992, at approximately 250 per year, fewer than half of recent graduates chose to pursue careers in higher education. With the number of vacancies for special education junior faculty averaging over 200 per year, more than one third of all job searches fail, resulting in the elimination of some positions, thus diminishing the nation's training and research capacity (Pion, Smith, & Tyler, 2003; Smith et al., 2001).

The discrepancy between the demand for special education faculty and the limited supply of qualified individuals has been attributed to several factors. The first factor is graduate immobility. In a national survey of 1,267 special education doctoral candidates, three-fourths of students applied to only one doctoral program at a university within 100 miles of their residence (Tyler, Smith, & Pion, 2003). Given that the median age for special education doctoral candidates is 42, unwillingness to relocate has been frequently cited by graduates as an issue in both doctoral program selection and job consideration upon graduation (Smith & Tyler, 1999).

A second factor is the large number of competing career opportunities which can offer graduates a significantly higher salary than they would receive as assistant professors. With beginning faculty salaries ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 per year, many recent graduates have rejected higher education careers (Hardman & West, 2003). Because of decreased federal funding for doctoral studies, many graduates face repayment of large student loans, providing motivation to look for higher paying positions outside of academia. Additional disincentives to higher education careers include the increased demands placed on new faculty members, such as heavy teaching loads (Pion et al, 2003) and the pressure to obtain outside funding (Smith et al., 2001). These issues heighten ongoing concerns about the aging of the special education professoriate (Smith & Salzberg, 1994; Tawney & DeHaas-Warner, 1993).

While the shortage of special education faculty is a nationwide concern, the problem is particularly acute in a number of regions in the country. In 2001, four Midwest states Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana (with a total population of 40 million residents), had 328 enrolled special education doctoral students. By comparison, four West Coast states with the same size population, California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada, had a combined doctoral enrollment of 157 students. Low doctoral enrollments were also reported in the central mountain states including Montana, North and South Dakota, Wyoming, and Nebraska, as well as northern New England, and southern states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In 2001, California, with a population of over 35 million residents, had only 54 special education doctoral candidates in the pipeline. By comparison, the states of New York and Texas (with a combined population equal in size to California) had, respectively, 162 and 135 doctoral students (Smith et al., 2001).

California has a geographic area larger than New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania combined, yet there are only seven institutions of higher education (IHEs) which offer a doctorate in special education, all with small enrollments. Between 1994 and 2000, these programs produced six special education doctorates per year for the entire state; only two graduates per year pursued careers in higher education (Smith et al., 2001). There are 42 colleges and universities in California offering one or more state-approved special education credentials. In 2002-03, more than 20 faculty openings in special education were advertised statewide, primarily at the assistant professor level in the area of high incidence disabilities. …