San Juan College partners with Western New Mexico University on new free teaching program

TeachUp program covers all tuition, books and fees for free

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — San Juan College will offer two virtual information sessions this week for students interested taking part in a program that offers them the chance to obtain a teaching degree at no cost.

The new TeachUp program is offered in collaboration with Western New Mexico University and offers students the chance to earn a bachelor's degree in education. All tuition, fees and books required for the program are covered by a $2 million appropriation from the Legislature that was split between San Juan College and WNMU.

The information sessions will cover the program's specifics and allow potential participants to ask questions. They will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at and at noon Wednesday, April 20. To register, email, then click on the Zoom link the day of the selected session at

San Juan College long has offered several scholarship programs that help aspiring teachers earn a degree, but TeachUp is the most comprehensive, far-reaching program the institution has ever had available, said Alexis Esslinger, the director of the college's teacher education program, because it eliminates so many of the financial hurdles that keep many students from completing their education.

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The college still is working on creating an application for the program now, so the best route available to those interested in TeachUp is to enroll in a teacher education or alternative licensure program at the college and begin taking introductory classes, she said.

"We can put them on scholarship immediately," she said, explaining that students then would be funneled into the TeachUp program, which will take them all the way through to their degree.

College officials said the state funding will cover costs for 40 students a year, in addition to providing faculty and staff members for the program.

Another significant advantage to the program is the fact that students will be able to earn a degree without attending a class outside the San Juan College campus. All the lower-level courses will be offered through the college in elementary education, secondary education and early childhood education, while upper-division courses will be taught by WNMU professors on the San Juan College campus, and through online and hybrid arrangements.

Adrienne Forgette

Adrienne Forgette, the vice president for the Office of Learning at San Juan College, said WNMU officials had approached her institution about collaborating on a project of this nature to address the shortage of teachers in the state. The two schools worked up a proposal for TeachUp, and state lawmakers received the idea favorably, she said.

Esslinger and Forgette both said they hope the program is especially attractive to longtime teaching assistants or substitute teachers who, for whatever reason, have not taken the final steps toward earning a degree. TeachUp not only will pay for the costs of their education, it will also provide them with a flexible schedule so that they can continue working while taking classes.

Esslinger said program organizers believe many of the potential teachers in that situation will choose to go back to the school they already were working at once they have earned their degree.

"All the research we have done, all the data we have collected feeds the seminal idea that a grow-your-own teacher program is what supports teacher capacity and keeps them in the pipeline," she said, explaining that the development of those long-term relationships is invaluable.

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Forgette echoed that idea.

"It makes so much sense for people already interested in teaching in those classrooms but who don't have the professional licensure," she said.

The program will be limited to 40 students a year, but Forgette said funding exists to keep it operating for five years. She hopes it proves to be so successful that lawmakers won't hesitate to renew funding for the program beyond that point.

Esslinger said many people at San Juan College already are deeply invested in seeing that happen.

"(San Juan College president) Dr. (Toni Hopper) Pendergrass has gone to (the state Capitol in) Santa Fe to appeal for the program herself," she said. "There's a lot of buy-in here, a lot of people working to make sure we get these teachers in local districts."

Forgette said the representatives of those local districts she has spoken to are very excited about the TeachUp program.

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"They like the idea that this is a continuous pipeline every year in some areas with a lot of familiar faces," she said.

She also expects some current high school students who are getting ready to graduate will be interested in stepping right into the program, along with workers who have found themselves displaced from other professions.

"It's very much an open door," she said.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription: