McKendree Makes Strides to Solve Teacher Shortage with New Online Program, Local Partnerships

(LEBANON, Ill., November 8, 2023) - McKendree University is taking the reins to help solve the teacher shortage that is still present in Illinois.

This fall, McKendree University’s School of Education rolled out an all-new Paraprofessional+ Pathway program, a fully online offering for paraprofessionals looking to become licensed teachers at the elementary level in only two years. This program also includes a special education endorsement option. Several teacher’s aides and assistants enrolled in the program are already making positive changes to the local schools in which they work.

One local paraprofessional and current student in this program, Tommy Hagen, has more than 20 years of experience working with children and adults with disabilities in various settings. She has already seen the value of this program and has been able to apply what she’s learned as a classroom aid in Breese School District No. 12. She anticipates completing the program in spring 2025 and hopes to pursue the special education endorsement as well.

“McKendree’s Paraprofessional+ Pathway program works well for potential teacher candidates as it allows them to continue to work and apply the information they are learning in real time. In addition, the online classes allow students to work at their own pace week by week,” said Hagen. “My classes have given me ways that I can contribute to making a safe, inviting learning experience for my students by being mindful about classroom arrangement, rules and expectations. I would wholeheartedly recommend this program to paraprofessionals who are interested in furthering their education and taking that next step in becoming a teacher.”

McKendree is also the first university in the state to receive the Gateway Apprenticeship Grant through the Illinois Department of Labor to support the Paraprofessional+ Pathway program. Through this registered apprenticeship program, students may continue working full-time as paraprofessionals while doing their online coursework and practicing skills in the field. Madison County Employment and Training Department received a $5.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Apprenticeship Building America Program last year. The goal of this grant is to build a new apprenticeship model in the greater Metro St. Louis region within the healthcare, education and the bioscience industries.

Additionally, O’Fallon School District 90 has partnered with McKendree University’s School of Education through a program called TEACHD90. District 90 is offering the opportunity for selected staff members to obtain their teaching license through the new Paraprofessional+ Pathway program while remaining employed in the district. These employees will continue to support students full-time in their school while completing the two-year asynchronous online Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education program. District 90 is supporting these paraprofessionals as they advance their skills and become licensed educators.

“District 90 is excited to partner with McKendree University for our TEACHD90 program,” said Carrie Hruby, superintendent of O’Fallon Consolidated Community School District 90. “TEACHD90 is designed to provide our current support staff the opportunity to obtain a teaching degree with the goal of creating a pipeline of future classroom teachers. Our support staff are loyal to the district and do outstanding work with students every day, so we are thrilled to support their career advancement. We are proud of their commitment and ambition, and we look forward to supporting their achievement. As we face the challenges of a national teacher shortage, this type of innovative partnership with McKendree is a true win-win.”

Faculty and staff at McKendree University are excited to offer this innovative program to fill a need within the community.

“Our Paraprofessional+ Pathway program is designed for schools to utilize their current resources to build future educators from within their own buildings,” said Dr. Katie Alford, assistant professor of education and director of teacher education at McKendree University. “We want to work alongside Illinois schools and districts to help their current paraprofessionals grow into future educators while still serving students in the classroom from beginning to end. We are excited to expand this program to high-need districts that struggle to recruit quality teacher candidates so they can grow their own teacher pool and improve classroom instruction.”

Additionally, McKendree’s School of Education has taken steps to fill in the educational gaps in Illinois by providing a Master of Arts in Teaching degree. This program allows paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, content knowledge pathway candidates and anyone who already holds a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university to receive their initial licensure in either three or five semesters.  The middle school and secondary portions of the program are fully online, and the elementary portion is slated to be completely online by the fall 2024 semester.

According to a recent article from The Associated Press, the shortage of teachers in Illinois has seen a decline; however, gaps in critical areas such as special education remain. State officials responded to the pandemic and the teacher shortage with more flexible licensure requirements and offered grants to areas of the state with continued shortages. McKendree is continuing to fill these much-needed gaps in the Metro East area and beyond through these two new programs.

The School of Education at McKendree University ensures that its students are fully prepared for the teaching career of their choice through a series of real-world experiences and rigorous coursework. Education students benefit from the longstanding relationships the university has with area school districts and are often paired with one of the many McKendree alumni who are now teachers at local K-12 schools. Furthermore, an impressive 98-100% of McKendree education students who remain in the state of Illinois after graduation land a job in their field of choice.

For more information, please contact the Office of Admission at McKendree University by emailing