In recent years, a new problem in a decades-old challenge has emerged: the number of new Mississippi teachers has sharply declined, exacerbating the teacher shortage and threatening the success of public education in Mississippi.

“The rising cost of college attendance and the declining value of teacher salaries may be squeezing aspiring new teachers out of the profession.”

In this investigation, Mississippi First examines the state of Mississippi’s educator pipeline, specifically how the number and diversity of candidates completing educator preparation programs have changed. We then present evidence showing how the rising cost of college attendance and the declining value of teacher salaries may be squeezing aspiring new teachers out of the profession. Finally, we offer a menu of recommendations for policymakers to address these interrelated financial barriers and reverse the alarming downturn in new teachers.

After years of relative stability, Mississippi’s pre-service educator pipeline is suddenly drying up—fast.
  • Mississippi educator preparation programs—our state’s primary source of new teachers—have experienced a 32% decline in graduates from 2013-2014 to 2017-2018, the most recent year for which data is available, and the out-of-state pipeline of teachers has almost entirely vanished, with a 96% drop in four years.
  • Teacher preparation in Mississippi is also becoming considerably less diverse, with 57% fewer Black teacher candidates enrolled in 2017-2018 than in 2010-2011.
  • At the same time, Mississippi is producing more college
    graduates than ever, which begs the question: With more and more Mississippians graduating college, why are fewer and fewer striving to become teachers?
The growing “pay penalty” for Mississippi teachers—the result of stagnant salaries—may be forcing would-be teachers to move out of state or choose a new profession entirely.
  • Since the Great Recession, the inflation-adjusted value of the average teacher salary in Mississippi has fallen almost $10,000 to just $45,105 in 2018-2019.
  • Mississippi teachers now earn an average salary at least $6,000 less than teachers in any neighboring state and over $20,000 less than the average Mississippian with a bachelor’s degree.
  • Since the early 2000s, the average teacher salary in a given year is strongly correlated with the number of teacher candidates graduating educator preparation programs four years later, suggesting that compensation plays a key role in young peoples’ decisions to enter teacher preparation.
Not only do aspiring Mississippi teachers have lower salaries to look forward to, they also have to pay more for the privilege, due to the skyrocketing cost of college and disappearing teacher-specific financial aid.
  • With a 26% hike in the net price of Mississippi colleges and universities from 2008-2009 to 2016-2017, becoming a licensed teacher is now more expensive than ever and likely to leave many with tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
  • Five years ago, Mississippi offered millions of dollars annually in forgivable loans to help teacher candidates pay for college; today, it is virtually impossible to receive teacher-specific financial aid.
  • In recent years, the average net price of attending college in Mississippi has predicted the number of graduating teacher candidates three years later with even higher accuracy than teacher salaries, further suggesting the importance of finances in decisions to enter teaching.
Stagnant salaries and sky-high tuition are forcing teachers to accept a lower standard of living—hardly the conditions necessary to reverse the rapidly worsening teacher shortage.

Monthly student loan payments can eat up already meager monthly paychecks, to the point where some teachers could effectively earn a take-home salary of less than $20,000 a year.

Teachers with student debt or dependents—or both—are at a severe risk of earning less than a “minimum subsistence wage,” increasing the likelihood they will either need to rely on government assistance or suffer housing and food insecurity.

Inflation and ongoing increases in the cost of college will further erode the standard of living for teachers in the coming years without needed intervention.

Policy Recommendations

Failing to address the financial viability of the teaching profession for new teachers could further deplete Mississippi’s pre-service educator pipeline in a moment when teachers are desperately needed. Thankfully, there are clear opportunities for policymakers to take decisive action.

Recommendation One

Raise teachers’ standards of living and the overall prestige of the teaching profession in Mississippi by providing for an across-the-board raise in teacher salaries of at least $3,000.

Recommendation Two

Incentivize current and aspiring teachers to teach where they are most needed by establishing a $3,000 stipend for all teachers in critical shortage areas.

Recommendation Three

Attract undergraduates into the educator pipeline by establishing an undergraduate grant program for juniors and seniors in educator preparation programs. Incentivize these individuals to teach in critical shortage areas by offering loan repayment assistance.

About the Authors

Toren Ballard

Director of K-12 Policy

Toren Ballard is the Director of K-12 Policy at Mississippi First. Nothing in the Pipes is his first major report published at Mississippi First. Toren was responsible for the 2020 release of the Public Perception of Charter Schools in Mississippi.

Rachel Canter

Executive Director

Rachel Canter is the Executive Director of Mississippi First and author of additional Mississippi First reports, including Leaving Last in Line, the State of Pre-K series, and Public Perception of Public Charter Schools (2019). Rachel founded Mississippi First in 2008.