Results from AMTE’s Survey of Enrollment in Mathematics Teacher Preparation Programs

In response to published reports of decreased enrollment in U.S. mathematics teacher preparation programs, and on behalf of the AMTE Board of Directors, the Emerging Issues Committee (EIC) conducted a brief national survey of mathematics teacher educators (MTEs). Because the EIC wanted to compare current program enrollments to 5 years earlier, respondents were asked to consult their program records prior to completing the survey. The survey was open for responses from December 21, 2015 to February 5, 2016 and contained both closed- and open-ended questions. This report presents the trends in the data.

Comparisons of Program Enrollments

Survey respondents were asked to compare their program enrollments to those of five years ago. Although programs at all levels have seen decreases in enrollment, the data indicate that early childhood programs have fared the best. Of the 62 respondents who reported on early childhood programs, 40% reported a decrease in enrollment while 37% reported that their enrollment has remained about the same in the last five years. Larger decreases were reported at other program levels, with the highest percentage of decreases in program enrollment reported at the middle and high school levels; the rates of respondents reporting decreases were 67% (n = 67 responses) and 63% (n = 87 responses), respectively. Over half of the elementary programs were also reported to have experienced decreased enrollments, with about 56% of responses (n = 79 responses) falling into this category. As can be seen in the table, the largest percentages of responses reporting enrollment increases were at the early childhood (23%) and middle school levels (18%).

Program Enrollment Relative to 5 Years Ago

Early Childhood


Middle School




























About the Same









Number of Responses










Eighty-seven of the respondents described programs at two or more program levels. Of these, 34% reported across-the-board enrollment decreases, while only about 6% reported stable enrollments at all program levels and 5% reported across-the-board increases. In total, 68% of respondents reported no increases in enrollment—enrollments were reported to be stable or declining at each program level.

When asked about the relative enrollment of historically underrepresented groups compared to five years ago, 67% of respondents reported that enrollments of such groups were about the same, while 15% reported increases and 8% reported decreases. Over half of respondents (55%) reported that enrollment in mathematics teacher education programs compared to other education programs changed the same as other programs at their institutions over the last five years, while 21% reported that mathematics education enrollments had decreased relatively more than other programs, and 8% reported that they had increased more. [Note that these percentages do not add to 100, as some respondents reported that they were unsure or did not know].

Factors Related to Changes in Enrollment

In order to allow the researchers to understand the changes in enrollment status in the program comparison section of the survey, respondents were asked the following question: “Based on program data and your experience, what are the three most important factors that lead to declining enrollment in mathematics teacher education programs?” Two members of the EIC examined the 276 responses, treating each response as equally weighted. First, the EIC members separately examined the survey data and created categories to describe the data. They then reconciled their categories, resulting in an agreed-upon list of 10 emerging categories. Independently, the two EIC members used this list of categories to code the total set of data. After agreeing on the omission of one category that received few responses and addition of one category that emerged from the coding, the coders reached 96.4% interrater agreement.

Following is the list of ranked categories, along with descriptions of typical entries in those categories. When two categories were close in percent of responses falling into those categories, they were assigned the same rank (e.g., the two top categories had percentages close to each other in value, so they both received a rank of "1"). The list starts with the highest-ranking category.

  • 1. Job market for teachers with significant mathematics background. This category refers to currently available opportunities and pay for teachers, together with alternative, more enticing, more lucrative job options to individuals who might be qualified to enter a mathematics teacher education program.
  • 1. Concerns with specific aspects of the teaching profession. This category refers to characteristics of the teaching profession (perceived or experienced) that may inhibit enrollment in a teacher education program. Factors include over-emphasis on high-stakes testing, de-professionalization of teaching, lack of bargaining rights, and perceived burnout of teachers.  
  • 3. Negative perception of or lack of respect for teachers. This category includes general negative perceptions (either by the individual prospective teacher or by external sources) of teachers or of the profession of teaching, without specification of particular aspects of teaching.
  • 3. Teacher education programs. This category refers to characteristics of teacher education programs (perceived or experienced) that may inhibit enrollment in a teacher education program.  Factors include the nature of mathematics content courses and education courses, length and difficulty of program.
  • 5. Certification/licensing requirements. This category refers to licensing requirements that might inhibit an individual’s ability to become a certified teacher. Factors include the cost of required exams and increased certification requirements.
  • 5. Student financial cost of teacher education programs. This category refers to the financial cost to the individual student of engaging in the teacher education program. Factors include the high cost of tuition, lack of available scholarships, and need for large loans. 
  • 7. State of the economy. This category refers to statements that relate the general national or state economy to declining enrollment in teacher education programs.
  • 7. General enrollment decline in K-12 and in higher education (beyond teacher education).
  • 9. Pathways to being hired as a teacher. This category refers to other, perceived to be easier, alternative routes to becoming a mathematics teacher.
  • 9. Quality of potential applicants. This category refers to the quality or motivation of potential applicants.

Over 94% of the AMTE members’ answers fit within these ten categories.

How Institutions Are Addressing Declines in Enrollments

A fourth section of the survey queried respondents on specific actions that institutions are taking to address enrollment: “What is your institution doing to address enrollment in your mathematics teacher education program(s)?” Seventeen respondents did not provide any responses to this question. Two members of the EIC examined the remaining 78 responses. The EIC members separately examined the survey data and created 7 categories to describe the data. Some respondents included multiple ideas resulting in multiple codes for some responses.

Thirty-five of the 78 responses (45%) referred to recruiting efforts. Sample statements included, “interacting with potential students at fairs,” “designing and implementing an aggressive recruitment campaign,” “more active recruitment efforts, especially at community colleges,” and “a full professor has been recruiting at the local community colleges, talking with faculty there, students, science clubs, making presentations, and trying to get more majors into the department.”

Twenty-six of the 78 responses (33%) referred to pursuing or securing funding through grants or scholarships.  Sample statements included, “We have an NSF Noyce grant to provide full scholarships to students preparing to teach in high need schools [in] STEM disciplines.” “We did initiate a new STEM stipend or scholarship for all STEM majors.”  “For three years, we conducted a Woodrow Wilson Foundation grant to train STEM teachers.”

Twenty-four of the 78 responses (31%) referred to designing new programs or revising programs. Sample responses included: “We built a mathematics endorsement for K-5, 6-8, K-8.” “We created a joint math and science 6-12 residency program to license teacher candidates.” “We are evaluating courses offered and, where we can with current resources, tailoring courses to better fit the needs of future teachers.” “We are emphasizing the ease of double majoring in mathematics and mathematics education.” “We are making courses more accessible by offering some of them on-line so that they are available to those at a distance.”

Fifteen of the 78 responses (19%) referred to advising and retention strategies. Sample responses included: “We also are working to be more proactive about advising and providing support for state licensure testing.” “We help students transfer from other programs (e.g., engineering) into secondary mathematics teaching.” “We are working to improve advising and minimize barriers to those entering our institution with math-related degrees/careers but not our specific courses.” “We are providing a free university-led induction program that follows them into their first years of teaching.” “We have implemented lab sessions for each course in the calculus series and have begun a peer tutoring process. We are being more proactive in our advising of our students. We are making a more focused attempt to engage with our students early and on a more frequent basis.” Less frequent categories included marketing and increasing web and social media presence, partnerships with other units at their universities and with school districts, and quality teaching.

Suggested Supports That AMTE Can Provide Programs

Another section of the survey queried respondents on potential supports that AMTE could provide: “What support can AMTE provide to help our community address declining enrollments in mathematics teacher preparation programs?” Fourteen respondents did not provide any ideas for this question. One member of the EIC examined the remaining 81 responses to identify potential supports.  The EIC member separately examined the survey data and created 11 categories to describe the data. Some respondents included multiple ideas resulting in multiple codes for these responses.

Twenty-seven of the 81 responses (33%) referred to promoting or marketing the profession of mathematics teacher education. Sample statements included, “Build up the profession.” “Help turn around the public attitude that teaching is not a highly respected profession.” “Develop an ad campaign that makes math teaching an appealing career option.” “We need videos that communicate why people should become mathematics teachers.”

Twenty of the 81 (25%) responses involved ideas related to advocacy for mathematics teacher education with policy makers. Respondents referred to state legislators, local political leaders, majors, governors, Congress, other major math associations, like MAA, and state education associations. Respondents identified advocacy topics such as reasonable certification requirements, testing, public education, higher teacher salaries, research studies, value of licensure, graduate education, and accredited teacher education programs.

Nineteen of the 81 responses (23%) referred to materials for marketing and recruiting. Sample responses included: “Provide a recruiting toolkit.” “Develop campaign materials that Schools/Departments of Education can disseminate to Mathematics Departments.” “Provide resources to share with HS juniors and seniors regarding why teaching is still a great profession.” “AMTE needs to support the recruitment of African American, Latino, and Native American students into mathematics teaching.”

Seventeen of the 81 responses (21%) referred to dissemination of best practices, research, or models. Sample responses included: “Provide venues to facilitate the dialogue and to share information and strategies.” “Help us to understand the creative ways that other programs are addressing these issues around the country.” “Sharing recruitment strategies among institutions would be very helpful.” “AMTE could support members by sharing the results of this report, including the actions various institutions have taken to better manage enrollment and increase the diversity of mathematics teachers.” “AMTE could issue a report that explores this as a national problem.”

Categories mentioned less frequently (less than 10%) included facilitating partnerships across institutions and organizations, promoting research and data, targeting underrepresented groups in pre-college settings, providing scholarships, ensuring high quality standards as well as alignment of standards to certification tests, providing resources to mentor novice teachers so that they are retained, and promoting curriculum standards and coursework.


The survey was helpful in documenting the perceptions of mathematics teacher educators regarding trends in enrollment data. Moreover, the survey has provided information about what mathematics teacher educators may need in terms of advocacy and other concerns. Input such as this is valuable and, hopefully just the beginning of the conversation on this important issue –conversation that will evolve into action that can contribute to solutions to this central problem.

Emerging Issues Committee

Marilyn E. Strutchens (Chair), Kathryn B. Chval, Corey Drake, M. Kathleen Heid, Shari Stockero, Paola Sztajn, and Nicole Rigelman (Board Rep)