Highline College will begin offering bachelor’s degrees in teaching this fall, a program that could help increase the diversity of teachers in neighboring schools.

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This fall, Highline College will become one of four state community colleges to offer students the opportunity to earn a teaching certificate — and because Highline’s enrollment is so diverse, the college’s leaders hope it could help increase the number of teachers of color in neighboring schools.

The college will offer a bachelor’s of applied science in teaching and early learning. When students finish the degree, they’ll be eligible for a residency teacher certificate with an elementary or early-childhood-education endorsement. That’s the first-tier certificate most teachers in Washington must receive in order to get their first teaching jobs, and the endorsement qualifies graduates to work in elementary schools or in early-childhood education.

Three other community colleges in the state offer similar programs: Pierce, Centralia and Grays Harbor community colleges.

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Because about 70 percent of Highline’s enrollment is made up of students of color, the program has a strong chance of graduating a diverse group of new teachers, said Frank Kline, the manager of the Highline program. And because most students who go to a community college live nearby, they’ll have roots in the area, which might make them more likely to work in a neighboring school and stay in a profession that has long had a problem with attrition.

Highline is the most diverse community college in the state, and the surrounding school districts — Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton and Tukwila — are among the state’s most diverse districts. Only about 31 percent of the students in those districts are white, while 85 percent of the teachers are white, Kline said.

Getting teachers from more diverse backgrounds into area schools could make a big difference in success rates, Kline believes. A recent study found that low-income, male students who are black were 39 percent less likely to drop out of high school if they had at least one black teacher in grades 3-5.

Highline College students who are interested in the program will first need to earn an associate of applied science, a two-year degree, and then take another two years at Highline to complete the bachelor’s in applied science. The first year of the bachelor’s program can be done part time, but the last year, which is an internship, requires students to go full time.

Kline says students could work their way through the program without having to take on much, if any, debt. After completing just the first quarter of the associate-degree program in early childhood education, a student would be qualified to earn initial state certification to work in that field, he said.

Most of the classes are offered in the evenings and weekends, so students can work during the day and take classes at night.

And the credentials are “stackable” — as a student takes more courses, he or she qualifies for more advanced certifications, which can lead to additional responsibilities and better pay.

Besides endorsements in elementary and early-childhood education, Highline will offer endorsements in special education, early childhood special education, English for speakers of other languages, and/or bilingual education endorsements.

More than 20 students have applied so far, Kline said, and the program could take as many as 30 in its first year. The applicants come from a wide range of backgrounds.

“It’s going to be a wonderful mix — I’m really excited to get them all together,” he said.