LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU)-- On Tuesday, Viterbo University announced their new partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).
They are calling it 'Emerging Educators' and the program helps paraprofessionals and other employees in the district earn a bachelor's degree in education.
For Viterbo, the partnership goes hand-in-hand with one of the missions of the university.
"Viterbo has always really valued education, teacher education, it’s what we were founded for almost a century ago and we also value partnering and meeting community needs where they are," said Sara Cook, the Dean of the College of Education, Engineering, Letters and Sciences.
The need they're helping is Milwaukee's teacher shortage. Cook says the district has struggled to fill hundreds of open teaching positions recently.
The program not only helps create teachers from employees already in the district, but it does so in an affordable way.
"Through support within the district through tuition assistance and then through Viterbo’s reduced rate for tuition of the students in MPS, it turns out that the students can graduate from the program debt free," Cook said.
Two cohorts started this fall from MPS, totaling in 40 students.
While Viterbo is partnering with the Milwaukee Public School District, this program isn't exclusive to them, but for anyone in the state who qualifies.
"We’re also offering a program across the state to paraprofessionals or to any college credit holders who have 35-60 credits, in any area really, who want to complete a degree in education," Cook said.
Viterbo hopes this program helps inspire more people to go into education, even outside the usual demographic they target.
"As much as we want to continue to educate high school students about the nobility of this profession and draw them towards teacher education," Cook said. "We also know we need to extend our pipelines and that our school districts our filled with qualified people who would like to complete licensure programs, but just right now don’t have a great pathway to do so."
All 40 students from MPS are also getting their special education license and the program will have an online format starting in 2020 to make it more accessible for all paraprofessionals throughout the state.