UNI to offer new online degree pathway for paraeducators to earn a teaching degree

A new online, accelerated pathway to a bachelo's degree offered by the University of Northern Iowa could greatly increase the number of elementary and special education teachers across the state.

Applications are being accepted beginning June 1 for "Purple Pathway for Paraeducators," which starts in fall 2022 and leads to an elementary education degree.

The new program aligns with the focus of the recently announced Teacher and Paraeducator Registered Apprenticeship (TPRA), a competitive grant from the Iowa Department of Education to support 100 paraeducators to complete their teaching degree. School districts across the state submitted applications by April 15 to seek funding to support paraeducators in their districts to participate in "grow your own" programs to supplement teaching workforces.

"This new state apprenticeship program responds to an ongoing teacher shortage while providing financial support for these students to make it happen. That's great," said Dean Colleen Mulholland, EdD. "As we looked at what paraeducators need and the numbers in districts across Iowa, we also realized we have a very special opportunity to extend the impact even further by scaling up a program that could work for many, many more."

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Building on the 2+2 program in elementary education's 25 years of success, UNI's streamlined online program is specifically designed for paraeducators with associate's degrees who can draw on their experience in the classroom while working toward a four-year degree.

Based on IDOE data, an estimated 15,670 paraeducators have credentials to work in Iowa. Of that, about 7,500 help staff elementary classrooms, which is the focus of UNI's new pathway.

To be eligible for the Purple Pathway, paraeducators must be employed; have support from a building or district administrator and mentor teachers; hold an associate's degree; and be able to commit to an online schedule that includes one three-hour synchronous (real-time) online evening session per week and one six-hour synchronous Saturday a month. All coursework is online, including additional asynchronous work-time. Paraeducators on this pathway will be able to apply their classroom roles and experiences to assignments and coursework objectives. Trained classroom teachers will serve as mentors onsite.

Paraeducators can earn their teaching degree in two years and, upon successful completion of student teaching, be eligible for licensure in Iowa for two endorsements: elementary K-6 and strategist I, the special education endorsement for working with students with mild to moderate special needs.

Paraeducators go by various names: paraprofessionals, educational aides, teaching assistants, educational associates, instructional aides and behavior interventionists. They assist teachers in the classroom, often working with students who have challenging educational and development needs. Many have an associate's degree.