Starting this semester, future teachers and school administrators can get a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in five years through a new program at the University of Colorado's Boulder campus.
The "4+1" program will allow students to earn a bachelor's degree in ethnic studies and a master's degree in curriculum or a master's degree in educational foundations and policy in five years, which will save them time and money.
"What we're really hoping to do with the program is help students who have a passion and a commitment for the issues they learn about in ethnic studies to find a way to take those ideas and apply them in an educational and community-based setting," said Elizabeth Meyer, associate dean for teacher education in CU's School of Education.
Participants in the program may go on to become teachers and school administrators, or they may choose to work on education policy at nonprofits, think tanks, school districts or government agencies, Meyer said.
As teachers, they'll help bring diverse perspectives to the classroom and the school environment. Meyer said graduates of the program will be able to teach a more nuanced version of the material traditionally offered in middle and high school English or social studies classes.
They'll also be able to build relationships and rapport with community groups, as well as serve as role models for students.
"It's a need primarily because our pool of teachers is incredibly homogeneous," Meyer said. "We know that students in our ethnic studies program do represent a greater diversity of genders, of ethnicities, of language backgrounds and we know that diversity is a strength that we need more of in our schools."
The program was inspired, in part, by CU undergraduates, who told their ethnic studies professors that they felt the issues they were discussing in college — race, gender, ethnicity, crime, social justice — would've been relevant to them in high school, too.
"Part of why we wanted to do this was a lot of our ethnic studies majors — a big motivation for them is that they wish they had these classes in high school or junior high," said Arturo Aldama, associate chair and associate professor of ethnic studies. "Especially if they're coming from a diverse high school, they're like, 'Wow. Wouldn't it be amazing to have these classes in African-American history and Chicano studies, talking about issues that are actually important to a lot of youth?'"
Aldama said it's important that children see themselves in their classroom materials week after week, not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Cesar Chavez Day.
By completing a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years, CU students can expect to shave a year off their time in school. They'll save a year of tuition and student fees, plus they'll hit the job market earlier and likely see a higher starting salary because of their extra qualifications.
The bachelor's in ethnic studies could also set them apart in communities with a high immigrant or bilingual population, Meyer added.
"The master's degree sets them apart from teachers who just have a license with a bachelor's degree," she said. "They'll have that higher level of critical thinking and the ability to apply research to practice. It does set them up higher on the pay scale."
Students majoring in ethnic studies will be able to apply for the program at the beginning of their junior year, though Meyer said she believes it will help CU attract high school students who are interested in diversity and education.
"We hope this will get people to come to CU as first-year students, to see that we are a community that values multicultural and equity-based approaches to education," she said.