Elaina Rollins ’16, Contributing Writer
It is recruiting season for Teach for America, and that means frequent visits to college campuses. Teach for America (TFA) is a non-profit organization that enlists recent college graduates to teach in low-income communities across the country. The program is part-social justice and part-educational reform as its main goal is to eliminate educational inequality. TFA seeks out highly capable college students through an intense application process, and those people who are accepted join a “teaching corps” for two years.
TFA is especially active right now because its next application deadline, Nov. 2, is quickly approaching. The program offers five deadlines for application between the months of August and February, and by the summer, the corps begins training to teach in the fall. Regardless of which deadline applicants choose, all accepted corps members begin teaching after a five-week intensive training session.
One of the reasons TFA has gained so much prestige and recognition is because of its selective admission process. The organization reported that almost 50,000 applicants applied for the 5,000 spots in their most recent program. But besides the fact that the acceptance rate is already low, the other requirements that the applicants must fulfill make the process even more competitive. Corps members must graduate from college with a cumulative 2.50 GPA on a 4.0 scale, and TFA reports that last year’s accepted applicants averaged a 3.55 GPA.
The recruitment process at TFA is clearly working, as its total membership marks a 10 percent increase over last year’s corps size. There are over 10,000 first-year and second-year members working in thirty-six states across the country, and TFA is the top employer for graduating seniors at fifty-five colleges and universities in the United States. Although the message behind TFA, which is one of educational justice, is appealing to all its applicants, the current state of the economy has proven to be a powerful application incentive as well. According to the “New York Times,” “Teach for America has become an elite brand that will help build a résumé.”
The “New York Times” also notes that TFA is functioning on a $185 million budget that helps to finance recruiters. The organization traveled to 350 college campuses last year in hopes of enlarging the applicant pool, and a graduate from Yale explained that he was “recruited like crazy.” In Connecticut, the Corps size is 175 members that are reaching 10,500 students. Connecticut is a target for TFA because of its vast achievement gap separating students. Nate Snow, executive director for TFA’s Connecticut regional team, explains that “while nearly 60 percent of our white and affluent students in the tenth grade have the math skills and knowledge expected at their grade level, the same is true of just 20 percent of our students from low-income backgrounds, 20 percent of our Latino students, and 15 percent of our African American students.”
Many college graduates in search of work jump at the chance for a two-year job guarantee in an unstable economy. TFA members earn a beginning teacher’s salary, which averages to be around $45,000 in many districts. That salary is the same as some salaries offered for beginning jobs in finance or public relations.
But behind all of the economic incentives and GPA requirements, TFA’s mission is what has caused the organization to grow for twenty-three years. The organization’s website states that the program seeks individuals with “a deep belief in the potential of all kids, demonstrated leadership ability, perseverance in the face of challenges, and respect for individuals’ diverse experiences.”
These qualities that TFA searches for are the reason the organization travels to college campuses to recruit the best and the brightest. TFA’s mission is fueled by big dreams but founded in realism. It seeks to close the educational gap while also using the resources this country already provides: high-achieving undergraduate students.