Faculty at institutions of higher education (IHEs) fulfill two critical roles for the field of special education (SE): They are responsible for 1) conducting research that produces validated instructional and behavioral practices for use in classrooms, and 2) preparing highly effective general education and SE professionals (e.g., teachers, principals, paraprofessionals). These professionals, in turn, use validated practices to improve the outcomes of students with disabilities.
The direct relationship between the shortage of SE faculty and the shortage of SE teachers is well established. Unfortunately, SE has faced a chronic and persistent shortage of IHE faculty for decades—too few doctoral graduates are produced. The result is an insufficient supply of new faculty, which in turn negatively impacts the preparation of all educators. A concern about the long-term effects of the faculty shortage led to the funding of the Special Education Faculty Needs Assessment (SEFNA) project. This project brought together scholars from across the nation to evaluate the supply of and demand for SE faculty, including implications for SE teachers entering the workforce. The project set out to perform seven tasks, namely
1. Assess the status and capacity of SE doctoral programs;
2. Assess the demographics, career goals, and characteristics of current SE doctoral students;
3. Determine the career paths, demographics, and other characteristics of two cohorts of SE doctoral graduates: five years of graduates who participated in The 2001 Faculty Shortage Study (Smith, Pion, Tyler, Sindelar, & Rosenberg, 2001) and five years of recent graduates;
4. Determine some of the basic characteristics of university-based SE teacher education programs;
5. Determine the graduation rates of doctoral students funded by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) through a follow-up study;
6. Conduct a comparison of funding levels for doctoral students across federal agencies; and
7. Triangulate data by examining job searches advertised in The Chronicle of Higher Education from June to October 2010.