Fewer college grads apply for TFA corps, but diversity is growing

Teach For America (TFA), the well-known nonprofit organization that trains top college graduates to teach and sends them into low-performing, hard-to-staff schools in an effort to improve student outcomes, has seen a drop in its applicants for the second straight year. More than 44,000 graduates applied to be corps members for 2015‒16, down from a high of 57,000 applications the previous year.
Fewer applications results in a smaller TFA teaching corps because the organization accepts 15 percent of its applicants. This year’s class will have 4,100 members, down from 5,300 in 2014‒15 school year. TFA attributes part of the drop to scaled-back recruitment efforts in the past two years. “…It just felt irresponsible to continue [to recruit] so aggressively when we were getting enough applications,” said TFA’s Co-CEO Villanueva Beard. The drop could also be attributed to:

  • Public criticism of TFA from some TFA alumni and corps members
  • A rebounding economy with an abundance of job opportunities for high-performers
  • Negative media reports about the difficulty of teaching today and teacher quality
  • A drop in applicants for all types of teacher prep programs around the country
While corps numbers are down this year, demand from school districts remains high. TFA is taking steps to reverse the downward trend in applications, including reaching out to prospective corps members much earlier—as college freshman and sophomores—to make them aware of what TFA does.

Good news on diversity

In 2014, TFA announced that it would welcome its most diverse group of corps members in the organization’s history. TFA set a goal to become more diverse a few years ago to better mirror the student populations of schools that its corps members generally serve.
In addition to recruiting at colleges and universities with high minority student enrollment, TFA also began recruiting graduate school students and people with professional experience. With regard to the 2014‒15 class, 50 percent identified as people of color (compared to 20 percent of teachers nationwide):
  • Twenty-two percent were African American
  • Thirteen percent were Hispanic
  • Six percent identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander
  • One percent were Native American
In 2015‒16, less than half of TFA’s new corps members are white, and 31 percent are the first in their families to graduate from college.
—“Teach For America Sees Another Big Drop in Accepted Corps Members,” by Rebecca Klein, The Huffington Post, Aug. 11, 2015.