Otero Junior College and CU Denver Campuses
OJC student teaching a 4th grader how to read

OJC student Linda Valdez, a second year elementary education student from La Junta, helping read a book to Christian Armendariz, a 4th grade student at La Junta Intermediate School.

In rural areas of Colorado, like Otero County, finding qualified teachers has been a struggle over the last several years. A 2017 report by the Colorado Department of Higher Education showed that teacher shortages are more pronounced in rural areas due to inadequate compensation, lack of affordable housing and difficulty attracting new teachers to rural communities.

“The rural teacher shortage is an issue the Colorado Community College System has been actively prioritizing,” said CCCS Chancellor Joe Garcia. “We know we need to build a better pipeline of great educators in rural Colorado, and we know community colleges are essential to doing that. Forming partnerships with other educational institutions is just one way we can nurture the talent that already exists within these communities.”

How Otero Junior College and the University of Colorado Denver are addressing the rural teacher shortage

Forming partnerships with other educational institutions is just one way we can nurture the talent that already exists within these communities.
- CCCS Chancellor, Joe Garcia
Otero Junior College (OJC), part of the Colorado Community College System, has been working with the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) over the last two years to acknowledge the teacher shortage in Otero, Crowley and Bent counties, with an innovative new degree program that provides a four-year pathway to a teaching license. In fact, the program just saw its first three graduates this May, each of whom already secured jobs as elementary school teachers in Southern Colorado.

The degree offered through this partnership, called the Elementary Education Associate of Arts Transfer degree, allows elementary education students to take their first two years of courses at OJC, then “transfer” to CU Denver curriculum without ever having to leave OJC. Studies are continued through a combination of CU Denver education courses (online and in-person), teaching internships and student teaching experiences in Southern Colorado schools.

“Our ability to offer this degree option to rural students has been transformative,” said OJC’s President, Timothy Alvarez. “We’re opening the door for more students, especially non-traditional ones, to find employment where they live, which will ultimately help our small communities thrive.”

The impact the Elementary Education Associate of Arts Transfer degree is having on rural communities

This year, the teacher turnover rate in La Junta, located in Otero County, was 21%. This remains higher than the national average of 16%. The new degree program is designed to ensure that candidates are well prepared with a high-quality education to teach, lead and stay in their career. This includes the opportunity for mentorship and a family-like environment for students.

“We have current teachers acting as mentors to the students in the program,” said Alvarez. “We have fourth year students studying with first- and second-year students, offering advice. It’s really amazing to see this community of support championing our new teachers and helping them succeed.”

We have current teachers acting as mentors to the students in the program. It’s really amazing to see this community of support championing our new teachers and helping them succeed.
- Otero Junior College President, Timothy Alvarez
Moving forward, OJC is planning to offer more degree programs similar to the Elementary Education Associate of Arts Transfer degree. This includes a secondary math and science degree with CU Denver, launching in the next year. OJC will also work with Metropolitan State University of Denver to launch a lifestyle medicine degree this coming fall.

“Community colleges are the key to reaching students who may not otherwise have access to higher education opportunities,” said Chancellor Garcia. “I’m excited to see colleges like OJC accomplishing this through collaborative and innovative new degree programs.”

For more information on Otero Junior College’s Elementary Education Associate of Arts Transfer degree, visit www.ojc.edu.