Dickinson State University's Department of Teacher Education is preparing for the rollout of its master of arts in teaching program, which was announced in May.

The online master's degree program, approved by the State Board of Higher Education and Higher Learning Commission and accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), will launch in spring 2018.

University leaders say the purpose of the program is to prepare highly qualified mid-career professionals and recent graduates of higher education to be secondary school teachers. It is designed for people without teaching credentials, yet who hope to become an educator after successfully completing a baccalaureate degree.

While it isn't necessary geared toward students who have passed through DSU's undergraduate program, the work done with those students represents the MAT program's foundation.

"The Higher Learning Commission was pretty pleased with the program that we laid out because it matches a lot of the hard work that we've done in our department to establish a really strong undergraduate teacher preparation program," said Kevin Moberg assistant professor of English and department co-chair. "[MAT] is not going to be just a 'fly by night' program. It's built on the strong work we do with our undergraduate teacher candidates and we will prepare teachers who are well-qualified to teach by the time they earn their master's degree"

The university intends to enroll 10 to 12 students when the MAT program gets underway, but that figure may increase as January gets closer and the number of students interested grows. Enrollment also depends on the state's needs for teachers.

Moberg said at least 15 people have contacted the department about the graduate program.

"Right now, people are reaching out trying to get some information or saying 'I'm interested in doing this' ... kind of testing the waters right now," said Christine McCoy, associate professor of education and director of graduate studies. "I've been following up with the people that have shown interest. Last week I sent an email out, so slowly those people are getting back to me and updating me on where they are regarding starting the program. But I see this as an ongoing thing because sometimes schools have to hire people in the mid-year."

The driving force behind the graduate degree program is addressing a statewide teacher shortage, but the need to fill in spots may be superseded by the effort to produce quality professional educators, and quickly. As the federal Every Student Succeeds Act begins to take effect this year, replacing the No Child Left Behind Act, data will be collected by the state to determine teacher effectiveness and make sure a student doesn't suffer with inadequate instruction.

"It use to be that you were maybe given three years to prove that you were an OK teacher, but now that's not the case anymore," said Dr. Renae Ekstrand, department co-chair and associate professor of education, "Every child deserves a well-qualified teacher the first day that you are in the classroom with that teacher. That is our philosophy for undergrad program as well as for the masters."