Teach for America Draws a Record Number of Applicants

Andrew Wickerham

Just weeks after Colgate University was named one of the top Peace Corps recruiting campuses in America, the University has recorded a significant increase in applications to Teach for America (TFA), one of the country’s most prestigious post-graduate fellowships. According to TFA New York Regional Recruitment Director Kendra-Lee Rosati, Colgate saw a 148 percent increase in applications for the fellowship compared to the 2007-2008 academic year. This places the University on par with, and indeed ahead of, many peer institutions, including Hamilton, Middlebury, Oberlin, Bowdoin and Amherst colleges, several of which were amongst the top schools for TFA matriculation during the last academic year.

The TFA mantra that “educational inequity is our nation’s greatest injustice” is the organization’s guiding principle. TFA places its Corps members – 85 percent of whom are recent college graduates – in disadvantaged and failing schools in 29 regions across the United States for two-year tours. Approximately one-third of Corps teachers instruct at the elementary school level, while two-thirds teach middle or high school.

Rosati, a recently appointed Recruitment Director and alumna of TFA’s Philadelphia Corps, was on campus during the week before Spring Break to meet with prospective applicants from the Class of 2010 in hopes of building connections with current Colgate faculty, students and institutions. She said that on-campus marketing is a vital part of the TFA recruitment process.

“Connections with faculty are especially necessary [to that effort],” Rosati said. “With so many students focused on graduate schools it is important to hear about other options.”

While there has been a marked rise in graduate school and fellowship applications nationwide in response to the current economic climate and tightening labor market, Rosati was quick to point out that the economy does not explain the whole picture. She cited the program’s stringent application and training process, as well as the dedication to the fellowship itself as evidence of this fact.

“I’m sure some of the economic issues are at hand,” Rosati said, “but [TFA] needs to be a passion, not a last resort.”

TFA accepts applications in four cycles throughout the academic year; Rosati’s visit to campus came as notification letters were sent to third-round applicants and the fourth-round deadline lapsed. As of that date, Colgate had recorded 62 applications for the year. Applicants rank their preference for a school region and grade-level, but these factors are not included in application decisions. TFA has long placed an emphasis on teaching math and science in primary and secondary schools, but according to Rosati, the organization recruits from all academic majors.

For successful applicants, a summer of training, regional orientation and student teaching leads up to the beginning of the two-year school posting. Last year, TFA accepted nearly 3,700 teachers from an applicant pool of 24,700. In a fellow’s second year, TFA offers career counseling and job placement assistance, often leading to jobs at some of the nation’s largest corporations. TFA recruiting material counts GE, Goldman Sachs and Google among the direct recruiters of fellowship alumni.

According to Rosati, TFA sees setting students on these career paths as an inherent part of the fellowship’s purpose.

“Our mission is to get great leaders into the classroom and from the classroom into leadership roles,” Rosati said.

The organization’s on-campus student recruiter senior Caitlin Olwell, who will teach biology in the Chicago Corps this fall, shared Rosati’s sentiments.

“I find it inspiring that so many Colgate seniors want to join TFA and the fight to end educational inequity in this country,” Olwell said. “Our school is full of future leaders and TFA definitely prepares people to be better leaders when they leave the program.”

The rising national profile of TFA seems to affirm this belief. TFA counts among its alumni the prominent Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee. Newly confirmed Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also lauded the TFA program during his Senate confirmation hearings.

Rosati hoped to build on this momentum during her visit, as the nation’s present challenges may serve to focus the attention of civically-minded students on a TFA application as an alternative post-Colgate plan.

“I believe that closing the achievement gap is the path to success for our country,” Rosati said.