A student studies in Bush Memorial Library

Para Pathway Program Helps Paraprofessionals Earn Teaching License, Degree

As school districts continue to face staffing challenges, Hamline University prepares to roll out a new program that will help build a dedicated, reliable teacher workforce.

Hamline’s innovative Para Pathway program, which launches this fall, aims to support paraprofessionals across the state in earning bachelor's degrees and teaching licenses in order to address the growing teacher shortage.

“The purpose of this program is to remove barriers for folks who we know are going to be successful teachers based on their skills and established work in the classroom,” said Dr. Joe Lewis, associate professor of education and chair of Hamline’s education department. “They’re highly likely to be committed to staying in the profession, which is another advantage of this program.”

According to the 2021 Minnesota Teacher Supply and Demand Report, nearly a third of new teachers leave their profession within their first five years. Hamline’s program targets paraprofessionals to help build a more stable workforce because they’ve already developed skills and experience in the classroom and have demonstrated a commitment to working with students.

“It’s just a logical group to recruit from,” Lewis said. “This is a group of people who we know are already dedicated to working with youth, so the likelihood is that they will not only be committed to becoming teachers, but they’re also likely to be successful and want to stay in the profession.

The Para Pathway program also helps address another staffing concern: fostering greater diversity in the workforce. The 2021 Teacher Report also states that “Minnesota continues to lag significantly in the ability to hire and retain racially and ethnically diverse teachers even close to the proportion of students of color and indigenous students in the state.”

Statewide, the 38% proportion of students of color (339,669 students) is met by only a 7.28% proportion of teachers of color (5,497 teachers), according to data included in the 2021 report. Regionally, the greatest disparities are in the seven-county Twin Cities metro and the Headwaters economic development region in northwestern Minnesota.

“Paraprofessionals not only have skills needed to work with students, but they more often have a racial and cultural connection to students in school,” Lewis said. “We’re interested in recruiting people of color and Indigenous people into the profession because Minnesota is especially underrepresented in that area. We see this program as a way to address both of those concerns.”

Hamline’s first Para Pathway cohort is enrolled for the Fall 2022 semester. The program is designed for working adults, with courses available in the evenings and online. What’s more, those enrolled can use their workplace as the site for their clinical experiences.

“We really want to work with paras to stay in their home school as much as possible and support the students there while they’re pursuing this,” Lewis said.

Most paras are expected to enroll with the support of their school district through state grants and Grow Your Own partnerships.

“If the district has a para working in the school, it gives them an opportunity to support them in earning their teaching license and getting a job in that district. In turn, the district’s investment gives them a valuable and dedicated teacher.”

For more information on the Para Pathway program, and how it helps paraprofessionals efficiently navigate the path to a bachelor's degree and  licensure, visit