Teacher recruitment and retention in Michigan – Challenges and potential solutions

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There is a teacher shortage in Michigan and across the country. Why is there a crisis? What can be done? This second post in a blog series on teacher recruitment and retention focuses on challenges and potential solutions in Michigan.

The first blog of this series revealed that there has been a growing crisis in teacher recruitment and retention over the last decade across the country. This blog post focuses on the challenges and potential solutions for teacher recruitment and retention in Michigan.

Challenges of Teacher Recruitment and Retention in Michigan

According to the 2021 Launch Michigan educator survey, two out of three Michigan educators would not recommend education as a career field. In a recent MVLRI study on Michigan teachers and administrators’ social and emotional needs, nearly two-thirds of teachers surveyed considered leaving their jobs during the 2020–21 academic year. Such findings do not signal an enthusiastic and optimistic outlook among teachers about their jobs and the future of education in Michigan.

So what is the state of teacher recruitment and retention in Michigan? What is keeping teachers from staying in their jobs? What is keeping people from becoming teachers? And what can be done to address these concerns?

In the last eight years, a striking trend has emerged in Michigan: the number of enrollments in and completions of teacher preparation programs have been on the decline. Figure 1 reveals that the number of enrollees declined by over 50% between 2013–14 and 2016–17. In more promising news, the number of enrollees increased roughly 25% between 2017–18 and 2019–20, but this number is still below the high in 2013–14.

Additionally, the number of completers of teacher preparation programs has declined by about 50% between 2013–14 and 2019–20. These data do not reflect how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted teacher preparation programs. Evidence suggests that young people are not considering careers in education because of the stresses presented to overworked and underpaid teachers throughout the pandemic.

Figure 1

Bar chart reveals number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs in Michigan declined by half between 2013-14 and 2016-17 school years. Number of enrollees increased roughly 25% between 2017-18 and 2019-20 school years. Line shows that the number of completers of teacher preparation programs declined by about 50% 2013-14 and 2019-20.

Michigan Superintendent Michael Rice revealed Michigan’s general declining enrollments in teacher preparation programs in the last 8 years. Without an adequate number of people enrolling in and completing teacher preparation programs, Michigan’s teacher shortage problem will likely worsen in the future.

When examining the student-to-teacher ratio in Michigan between the 2013–14 and 2020–21 school years (Figure 2), some general promising trends emerge. The number of students per teacher increased from about 14.1 in 2013–14 to 15.6 in 2016–17. The ratio declined each year from 2016–17 to 2020–21.

In 2020–21, the ratio was about 13 students per teacher in Michigan. Although these aggregate numbers present an overall improvement in the statewide student-to-teacher ratio, they mask challenges that are observed in specific districts unable to recruit and retain teachers for a variety of reasons, including difficult-to-fill subject areas and a lack of available teachers in particular parts of the state (especially rural parts of the state in northern Michigan).

Figure 2

Bar chart shows student-to-teacher ratio in Michigan between 2013-14 and 2020-21 school years. The number of students per teacher increased from about 14.1 in 2013-14 to 15.6 in 2016-17. The ratio declined each year from 2016-17 to 2020-21. In 2020-21, the ratio was about 13 students per teacher in Michigan.

According to MI School Data, the ratio of students to teachers in Michigan increased and then decreased in the last eight years. Although this might seem like a promising trend, aggregate/statewide data may not reveal the teacher shortages found in specific schools and districts.

Many people may assume that low salaries have caused a teacher shortage in Michigan (Michigan teachers’ average starting salary ranked 33rd nationally in 2017–18), but the 2021 Launch Michigan survey found that lack of support from lawmakers and policymakers was the top reason for why teachers are dissatisfied and may leave education. This reason was followed by overwhelming workloads and a general lack of respect for education as a profession. 

Figure 3

Impact on Career Satisfaction20192021
Lack of support from policymakers and politicians72%70%
Excessive workload64%68%
Lack of respect for the profession66%66%
Better salaries in other fields60%59%
Reductions in retirement benefits59%57%
Lack of support from parents or the public47%53%
Reductions in health insurance benefits56%52%
Excessive paperworkn/a48%
Lack of resources to support student learning51%44%
Lack of support from supervisorn/a36%
Lack of flexibility in role or schedulen/a32%
Experience during COVIDn/a32%
Lack of professional development17%15%

The 2021 Launch Michigan survey of 5,133 educators revealed what Michigan teachers think has a significant negative impact on their career satisfaction. Survey responses from a similar survey in 2019 are provided for comparison purposes.

A recent Bridge Michigan article cited other reasons for an acute shortage of teachers during the 2021–22 school year: burnout caused by the constant shifting between online and in-person teaching, worries about contracting COVID-19, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. These reported reasons have fed into the number of teacher retirements going up by 44% between August 2020 and July 2021 (Michigan Education Association).

Therefore, the teacher shortage in Michigan is caused by multiple factors, but an underlying theme is a concern about job stability and satisfaction. Launch Michigan President Adam Zemke succinctly summarized the state of teacher recruitment and retention in Michigan:

“When it comes to building Michigan’s workforce for the future, educators are essential. We can’t afford to sit by as retirements spike and enrollment in teacher preparation programs drops precipitously. We are in the midst of a crisis that is growing with each passing year, and the impact of COVID-19 on the profession has exacerbated the trend. As we work to reverse course, it makes tremendous sense for us to begin by asking teachers and other education professionals themselves which elements can do the most to keep them satisfied in their work.”

Possible Solutions for Michigan’s Teacher Recruitment and Retention Crisis

Based on the various polls of Michigan teachers cited above, it is evident that teachers do not feel supported by legislators, policymakers, and the general public. To address these concerns, in his November 9 presentation to the Michigan State Board of Education, Michigan State Superintendent Michael Rice called for action to fight Michigan’s teacher shortage.

His presentation of possible solutions largely emphasized financial support, but there are important recommendations to provide social, emotional, and professional support to make teaching a more viable and sustainable career path. Superintendent Rice’s main suggested solutions included the following:

  • Increase teacher salaries, especially entry-level salaries
  • Improve teaching and learning conditions in schools by focusing on teachers’ experiences
  • Provide accelerated pathways for support staff to become teachers based on local community needs (“Grow Your Own” programs)
  • Reach out to retired and formerly certified teachers to see if they would like to return to teaching through a recertification waiver program (Welcome Back Proud Michigan Educator Program)
  • Provide tuition reimbursement for college students who commit to pursue teaching
  • Forgive student loans for teachers who are working to pay off student loans
  • Provide scholarships to high school seniors who aspire and commit to becoming teachers
  • Revive and strengthen teacher preparation programs in colleges in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula
  • Support mentoring of new teachers
  • Ease restrictions on accepting teacher licenses from other states  
  • Simplify the pathway for people who graduated from teacher preparation programs but did not complete all requirements for certification
  • Expand eligibility for child-care reimbursement for students enrolled in teacher preparatory programs
  • Provide tuition reimbursement for the legislatively required reading course for certification
  • Offer stipends to defray living costs during student teaching
  • Fund district efforts to recruit and retain teachers, such as developing programs that work with students in grades 6-12 who have an interest in teaching

The Michigan Department of Education has also devised a Staffing Strategic Plan to offer advice to schools, education preparation programs, and communities on how to recruit and retain teachers. This plan largely centers on building respect for teachers as well as making teachers feel supported and appreciated.

In Launch Michigan’s 2021 survey, when Michigan educators were asked what changes would show more respect for educators, they cited the following as being impactful:

  • Increasing educators’ salaries (81%)
  • Using more input from educators in policy decisions (77%)
  • Empowering classroom educators with more choice about what and how they teach (67%)
  • Creating additional supports in and out of school to address problems like poverty and trauma that make it hard for students to learn (64%)
  • Improving culture and leadership at the building level (57%)
  • Creating hybrid teaching/leadership roles to promote career development of teachers without having to leave the classroom (36%)

It cannot be emphasized enough that any recruitment and retention plan should involve teacher input to make sure efforts are aligned with teacher needs and expectations. As President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Michigan David Hecker stated in a Michigan Education Association (MEA) press release:

“These survey findings tell us precisely what teachers want—adequate, targeted professional development, fair evaluations that work well, adequate mentoring and support, sufficient compensation and benefits, and a reduction in their non-instructional workload. These are goals we can work together to develop for them.”

Final Thoughts

As was noted in the first blog in this series, we are facing a teacher shortage crisis across the country. Whether it’s young people’s dwindling interest in becoming teachers, teacher burnout, or an increase in retirements, it is clear that the future of education in Michigan and beyond requires creative and swift action to recruit and retain quality teachers.

If we don’t act now, we risk dire situations where schools may need to close or drastically adjust their school operations (for a discussion of recent examples, see Detroit Free Press and Bridge Michigan). Solutions might require significant time and investment on the part of lawmakers, policymakers, districts, and communities. However, the long-term benefits for students, families, and communities outweigh any worries about the immediate short-term costs.

Building on the potential solutions presented in this blog, an upcoming post in this blog series will examine specific successful programs in Michigan to recruit and retain teachers.

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The author would like to thank Tracy Gieseking, Kristen DeBruler, Christa Green, and Christopher Harrington from the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute for their contributions and advice in developing this blog post.

Picture of Ed Timke

Ed Timke

Dr. Ed Timke is a research specialist for Michigan Virtual. Although he specializes in qualitative research — such as interviews, focus groups, ethnographies, and textual and visual analyses — he was trained in mixed methods research while in his doctoral program in communication and media at the University of Michigan. Ed has taught online and face-to-face courses on writing, research methods, global media and communication, the role of advertising in society, and intercultural communication at American University, Duke University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan.

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