Teacher shortage endangers BLS program

A teacher shortage could threaten the success of the University of Alaska Anchorage's new Bachelor's of Liberal Studies program, which is receiving national recognition.

“We're not too sure how we're going to offer this degree,” said Kerry Feldman Ph.D., associate dean for student and curricular affairs for the College of Arts and Sciences. “We simply don't have the faculty to teach them.”

The BLS program was designed to have eight new faculty members to implement the degree. There are funds to hire two new professors this academic year. The program has been denied the funds for the remaining professors needed, Feldman said.

“We're not sure we're going to get these professors,” Feldman said.

The teacher shortage also affects another program. Ten of the newly created BLS program courses are required by the new Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education. The teacher shortage could prevent students in both programs from graduating on time.

Feldman said they are more concerned with offering the bachelor's degree in Elementary Education because there are 90 students enrolled in the program. And there is a scarcity of qualified teachers throughout Alaska.

The BLS program can offer classes until next fall; at that time more professors will be necessary to teach the 40 new credits required by the program.

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Feldman is not sure where the finances will come from, but he said UAA would have to reallocate funds.

The BLS degree is a four-year undergraduate program that was created when the regents eliminated all undergraduate teacher preparation programs two years ago. The new BLS program was officially approved by the regents last June. The existing elementary education program is supposed to be phased out by fall 2002. But the University of Alaska did not have a bachelor's program to prepare elementary teachers after the phase out. That's why the BLS degree was originally created.

With the help of a $6 million grant from the Alaska Partnership for Teacher Enhancement, the BLS program was developed. The degree was designed to provide students with the groundwork to continue in the teaching field.

Originally the program was supposed to be operational in three years – by 2005. But the Board of Regents moved up the deadline for the BLS degree program to be in effect by 2003. But without professors for the program, achieving that goal is unlikely.

Another complication arose. In September 2000, the regents required UAA, UAF and UAS to have an undergraduate elementary education program by fall 2001.

Thus a new program – the Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education – was created. This degree pulls from the BLS program and the graduate program for teacher education.

This meant the BLS program would no longer be used to prepare elementary education teachers and the new degree in elementary education would replace it. However, the BLS program will still be offered, but not required for teacher education.

“There's not that much interest in the BLS program, because students that want to be a teacher are in the bachelor's of arts [in elementary education],” Feldman said.

The BSL program is receiving national recognition for its design. It is a collaboration between the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences. The two departments worked together to create the program.

“On a national level people are amazed that CAS and the School of Education could jointly develop a degree,” said Donna Gail Shaw Ph.D., the associate director for the School of Education.

The BLS degree is an intermediate program that provides a strong background in general studies. It is meant to offer students a strong foundation in interdisciplinary courses.

Kristine Crossen Ph.D., the chair of the geology department who is currently teaching a class in the program, said the program is in-between a bachelor's of arts and a bachelor's of sciences.

“We designed this thing to cross the boundaries,” said Crossen. “It is a whole other way of doing things.”

The BLS program has just a handful of students and could see graduates as early as December 2003. But Feldman still is enthusiastic about the promise of the BLS program.

“A whole new culture is being created at UAA,” Feldman said. “This program is one of the most creative.”


The following courses from the new Bachelor of Liberal Studies program must be taken by students seeking a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education:

  • LSIS A101 Discoveries of Science
  • LSSS A111 Cultural Foundations of Human Behavior
  • LSIS A102 Origins: Solar System, Earth, and Life
  • LSIS A201 Life on Earth LSIS A202 Concepts and Processes: Natural Sciences
  • LSIC A231 Truth, Beauty, and Goodness
  • LSSS A311 People, Places, and Ecosystems
  • LSIC A331 Power, Authority, and Governance
  • LSSS A312 Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • LSIC A332 Science, Technology, and Culture