College of Education

College of Education to use grant award to offer free tuition for career changers pursuing teaching degrees


The College of Education will use a grant award from the South Carolina Department of Education to cover all tuition and associated costs for 36 career changers pursuing a master’s degree in teaching from Clemson University. The College’s “Grow Your Own” program works with partner school districts to secure paid employment for students as educational assistants while they complete their degree entirely online.

The Department of Education’s South Carolina Grow Your Own (SC GYO) program addresses the need to increase the teacher workforce in communities throughout the state. The Department of Education created the program to partner colleges and universities with school districts to help aspiring teachers pursue degrees in education.

According to Michelle Cook, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the College of Education, the program will prioritize placing Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) students in programs that address the highest needs across the state, such as middle-level and secondary math and science teaching positions. She said hiring professionals already working as assistants in schools – or those from other industries with a strong desire to become teachers in home districts – naturally creates a motivated group of graduate students.

Cook Michelle
Michelle Cook has been a faculty member at Clemson since 2006.

“Some of the most effective and dedicated teachers are those motivated to teach in their own home districts,” Cook said. “Existing College of Education programs that aid districts in growing their own teachers have been highly successful, so a grant designed to do this for career changers in our graduate programs is very promising for districts and communities.”

Students in the program must have a bachelor’s degree and meet the requirements for student teaching clearance. Funds from the grant will support tuition, fees, books, supplies and certifications required to teach. After earning their MAT, students commit to teach in the participating district for three years.

Cook said that in addition to recruiting from current district employees not certified to teach, the program is also designed to be a good fit for community members – a parent returning to work or a mid-career professional, for example – interested in employment as a teacher in their local school district. The College also designed the program to appeal to undergraduate students or recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree who are interested in a teaching career.

Angela Hinton, assistant superintendent of instructional services in Spartanburg District Two, was present when faculty and staff from Clemson University presented their ideas to districts on using grant funds to build Grow Your Own tuition assistance on the back of its robust MAT program. She immediately thought of the many parents or community members in her district with practical knowledge that they could turn into exciting classroom experiences for students.

“There are people out there with the content knowledge and interest in the community to become teachers, but they don’t want a tuition bill on top of classes and an income gap when changing careers,” Hinton said. “I think this approach removes most if not all the financial and logistical hurdles for people on the fence about pursuing a career change to become a teacher.”

Angela Hinton

Students earning their MAT will be placed in districts as educational assistants, so they will not only gain a tuition-free degree but also spend a year being paid as an educational assistant. This lead-up to a master’s degree and employment as a licensed teacher will allow the MAT student to become familiar with the district into which they will be hired.

Hinton said the district plans to create various supports for MAT students including monthly meetings, a mentor program and opportunities for students to support one another via a cohort setup. She hopes to attract students who will fill positions across K-12 with particular emphasis on secondary education math and science teachers.

“Career changers bring a different kind of value to a district and school,” Hinton said. “Teachers who come from another industry bring diverse, real-world knowledge to students, so we want to attract that kind of audience and remove barriers. Clemson is truly serving the state by making this a win-win-win situation for communities, districts and valuable future educators.”

Spartanburg District Two is one of seven district partners involved in Clemson’s Grow Your Own program for MAT students. Other districts include Aiken County Public School District, Anderson School District 1, Anderson School District 5, Florence School District 1, Florence School District 3 and the School District of Pickens County. Visit the College of Education’s website for more information on Clemson’s MAT programs in Middle Level Education, Modern Languages and Secondary Education.

For more information on the grant program or to see if you qualify, visit this link or contact Michelle Cook (

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