Alternative Pathways for Educator Certification Program

The mission of the Alternative Pathways for Educator Certification (APEC) Center at Columbia College is to recruit, prepare, and retain quality teachers in critical-needs school districts in South Carolina. The Center will focus on professional development, mentoring, and support aimed at improving the performance and retention of teachers who receive alternative certification in our partner districts.

Counties Served

Richland County, *Lexington County, Fairfield County, *Sumter County, *Kershaw County.

*These counties include districts who are new partners added for the 2020-2021 school year.

Annual Cost

$227,000 in 2019-2020

Partner Organizations

  • University of South Carolina SC-Teacher
  • Richland County School District One
  • Richland County School District Two
  • Fairfield County School District
  • Lexington County School District Four
  • Lexington County School District One
  • Lexington Richland School District Five
  • Kershaw County School District
  • Sumter County School District
  • City Year

Funding Sources


  • $135,000 Commission on Higher Education Center of Excellence Grant,
  • $24,000 Colonial Life Charitable Gift Grant
  • $68,000 Columbia College funds toward directors, instructors, and college supervisor costs


In-Cash Contributions—$66,000 Columbia College tuition grants for participants


The APEC Program, funded through a five-year grant from the SC Commission on Higher Education, was created in June 2018 to provide a quality alternative certification pathway for our partner district employees. Incorporating best practices from traditional teacher preparation, the APEC Program addresses concerns that many alternatively certified teachers receive inadequate preparation and mentoring for the classroom (O’Connor, Malow, & Bisland, 2011; Ingersoll, Merrill, & May, 2014).

South Carolina, like many states in our country, is facing a challenge that threatens our ability to provide a quality public education for all students. Annual reports from the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement (CERRA) indicate that since 2017 school districts have reported more than 500 teaching vacancies at the beginning of the school year—over 500 classrooms without certified teachers to educate and guide South Carolina’s children. To address this shortage, many districts must hire uncertified teachers to fill vacant positions or combine classes which can lead to large class sizes. To support districts’ need for certified teachers, the Alternative Pathways for Educator Certification (APEC) Center at Columbia College offers an alternative teacher preparation program that provides teaching assistants a pathway to certification that is feasible for working adults yet grounded in best practices in teacher preparation. The participants, called APEC Fellows, enroll in a two-year program designed to provide quality instruction, extensive coaching, on-the-job training, and mentoring to prepare them to be effective teachers and retain them in the classroom.

APEC Fellows are selected following a rigorous application process designed to identify motivated and committed individuals. Fellows must have a bachelor’s degree and must have a career GPA of 2.75 or above on all previous coursework. Once accepted, APEC Fellows begin the program as a cohort in the summer of each year. During the first year of the program, APEC Fellows complete four course modules that are aligned with current Columbia College courses and focus on pedagogy, assessment, learning theory, and classroom management. Fellows also work in classrooms as instructional assistants which allows them to complete a year-long, work-embedded residency. Through the residency, Fellows are paired with a master teacher who serves as their mentor. The Teacher Residency model has been incorporated in teacher education since 2001 and has been effective in improving the preparation of beginning teachers. Teacher residency programs may differ in structure but they are grounded in district and university partnerships, engage candidates in a year-long field experience, connect college coursework to classroom experiences, and facilitate cohort relationships (Guha, Hyler, & Darling-Hammond, 2007). Unlike many teacher residencies, the APEC program involves a two-year experience with ongoing collaboration with the cohort and support from a Columbia College Supervisor and the mentor teacher. Additionally, Fellows participate in weekly Professional Learning Seminars designed to connect the learning outcomes of previous modules with observations taking place during the classroom experience.

In Year Two, Fellows who have successfully completed their Praxis 2 certifying exams can secure teaching positions to begin their careers as first-year teachers. Fellows also continue taking courses to complete their master’s degrees. Additionally, the program hosts monthly cohort meetings and workshops to encourage continued interaction with the Fellows, their mentor teachers, and supervisors. Fellows also participate in the APEC Summit on Teaching and Mentoring and other professional development workshops sponsored by the APEC Center during the year. Our professional development offerings are available to employees of all of our partner districts.

As educators we have experienced the challenges of being a first-year teacher and are committed to supporting our APEC Fellows as they take this next step. The APEC Program provides support by assigning a supervisor who will work with the Fellows during the year. Additionally, APEC Fellows participate in a first-year planning seminar in which they are given a checklist of tasks to complete to get ready for Day 1. The supervisor also visits Fellows’ classrooms to help with setup, classroom design, classroom management planning, preparation for parent-student orientations, instructional planning, and formal evaluations. Supervisors also communicate with Fellows regularly to answer any questions, offer support, and listen to their frustrations and concerns. Fellows also continue attending seminar meetings which are another avenue of support and encouragement and attend professional development workshops offered by the APEC Center throughout the year. Programs providing intensive coaching and continual professional development have been shown to positively impact teacher practice and student achievement (Meyers, Molefe, Brandt, Zhu, & Dhillon, 2016).

Currently, the APEC Center is working with 36 APEC Fellows in Cohorts 1 and 2. We started the program in June 2018 with 16 APEC Fellows in Cohort 1. During the 2019-2020 school year, three APEC Fellows from Cohort 1 assumed teaching positions and began their teaching careers. This year, the other Fellows in Cohort 1 are working to pass their Praxis 2 exams and assume teaching positions in the fall. We enrolled 23 APEC Fellows in the summer 2019; all of whom were previously employed by their respective school districts. All Fellows have continued taking courses through the spring 2020 and are completing the requirements this summer to assume teaching positions in the fall. Our faculty and staff recently concluded the interviewing process for APEC Cohort #3. At this time, we have accepted 29 applicants into the cohort. All 29 applicants were previously employed by their school districts.

As we recruit for the program, we work to ensure that our APEC Fellows represent the diversity that we see in South Carolina’s public schools. NCES data from the 2015-2016 school year revealed that more than 50% of public school students were from racial or ethnic minority groups while only 20% of teachers were representative of those groups (Geiger, 2018). Fortunately, our APEC Cohorts continue to reflect our state’s diverse population and we are excited that we have been able to recruit young men of color to pursue certification in elementary schools. The table below provides an overview of the racial backgrounds of our APEC Fellows.

                                                 Cohort 1     Cohort 2     Cohort 3

African American Males             2                2                  3
African American Females         8               11                 12
Caucasian Females                      3                 8                13
Caucasian Males                           1
Asian American Females                                1

Given the teacher shortage throughout the state, it is essential that higher education institutions work with districts to recruit and train certified teachers. In our recruitment efforts, we conduct information sessions for employees of our partner districts to come and learn about the APEC Program. By recruiting from our partner district employees, we have learned that districts already have a pool of instructional assistants and other personnel who are interested in becoming teachers and can assume much needed classroom positions. As such, we want to continue expanding the APEC Program beyond our current partner districts (Richland School Districts One and Two and Fairfield County School District). We have recently secured formal partnerships with Kershaw County School District, Sumter County School District, Lexington School District One, Lexington School District Four, and Lexington Richland School District Five. The APEC Center is working with these districts to increase the pool of quality, certified classroom teachers. As shown in the table below, all of the districts that we have added to our partnership have at least 5 schools that are listed on the state’s critical needs list ( for the 2020-2021 school year. As we work to certify employees of these district partners, we can ensure that more teachers are qualified to work in their schools.

District # of Schools on the Critical Needs List
Kershaw County 9
Lexington 1 5
Lexington 4 7
Sumter County 20
LexingtonRichland Five 12

Many of our critical needs schools struggle with teacher turnover and recruiting quality teachers. Critical needs schools often serve a significant number of children who live at or below the poverty line and who are from ethnic minority backgrounds. The teacher shortage directly impacts the quality of education these children receive. The table below shows the increases in teacher turnover rates for our new partner districts in a five-year period, as reported by data. All of these districts experienced an increase in teacher turnover during this time.

District Turnover Rate from 2012-2013 to 2016-2017
Kershaw County Schools 6.8 to 9.6
Lexington One 7.0 to 8.0
Lexington Richland Five 7.8 to 10
Lexington Four 11.9 to 16.7
Sumter County Schools 10.9 to 12.2

Ensuring that students have a quality education requires that they have access to certified teachers who are well-prepared to be retained in their classrooms.

As required by the Commission on Higher Education Center of Excellence Grant, the APEC Center works with an external evaluator to gather program data to determine its effectiveness. In order to monitor program success, use feedback to make program changes, and incorporate accountability, the core attributes of program evaluation, utility, feasibility, propriety, and accuracy will be followed (Yarborough et al., 2011). The external evaluation upholds these standards by engaging all stakeholders in the evaluation process and by sharing findings in a useful manner. Thorough description of the program provides the external evaluator with a foundation from which to develop a focused evaluation design. After gathering data, the external evaluator performed specified analyses, synthesize, and interpret results against program goals, objectives, priorities, and standards as well as evaluation standards (Gertler, Yarborough et al.; Hage & Meeus, 2006). Katalyst Innovative Consulting Svcs., the external evaluation firm, believes reporting of information is an iterative and participatory process; therefore, Columbia College faculty and staff will be involved in the data analysis, synthesis, and interpretation of results. Additionally, Guiding Principles of Evaluation which include systematic inquiry, competence, integrity/honesty, respect for people, and responsibility for general and public welfare have all been taken into account within the context of the external evaluation.

Methods used to determine the impact of the APEC program include:

  • Design of program change actions, program logic, program activities, program goals, and expected outcomes prior to program implementation (Spring, 2018).
  • Collection and analysis of data from program stakeholders to inform program goals and program outcomes.
  • Monthly meetings with program staff and the external evaluator to assess qualitative information and make program changes as indicated by data.

Multiple forms of data were collected to inform the external evaluation report. Data collected from APEC Fellows include mid-year interviews, end-of-year interviews, end-of-year program perception surveys, course evaluations, Praxis scores, completed SCTS 4.0 rubrics, and course grades.

APEC Program Year 1 Outcomes Measured Fall 2019

Theory of Action: Through professional development, mentoring, a work-embedded residency, and support, the APEC Program aims to improve the performance and retention of teachers who receive alternative certification in School Districts supported by APEC. Through engagement in this comprehensive program we believe that alternate route teachers will be properly trained to be effective in the classroom and will be retained at high levels.

The APEC program demonstrates many strengths and witnessed multiple successes in light of the expectations set by the APEC program team. Overall, program activities and characteristics promote recruitment, retention, mentoring, and support for teacher candidates. The external evaluation found that outcome expectations were met or exceeded during the first year of the program. Additional program strengths include ability for APEC Fellows to develop a network and earn money while learning the teaching profession.

Year 1 APEC program outcomes:

Outcome 1: Recruit up to 15 candidates annually.

  • In Year One, we recruited 16 participants for APEC Cohort 1. Of these 16 APEC Fellows, 15 were previously employed by a partner school district.
  • In Year Two, we recruited 23 participants for APEC Cohort 2. All of these Fellows were previously employed by a school district.

Outcome 2: Retain at least 70% of recruited candidates in the program through Year 2.

  • In Year One, we retained 81% of APEC Fellows.
  • In Year Two, we have so far retained 100% of the Fellows who will complete Year 2 of the program in 2020-2021.

Outcome 3:

90% of candidates score Acquiring or above on all indicators of the SCTS 4.0 at the end of Year One (2018-2019). 70% (7/10) APEC Fellows in who completed Field 2 in the spring 2019 scored proficient or higher on all indicators of the SCTS 4.0 Rubric. 95% of APEC Fellows in Cohort 2 scored Acquiring or above on all indicators of the SCTS 4.0 rubric at the end of the fall 2019 semester. 100% of the Fellows in taking Field 2 in spring 2020 scored proficient or higher in all domains of the SCTS 4.0 rubric.

Outcome 4:

70% of candidates on will pass Praxis II at the end of Year 1.

  • We did not meet this outcome at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year as three out of the 11 APEC Fellows eligible for alternative certification successfully passed the Praxis 2 exam at the end of the first year. Two Fellows did not take the exam during this year because they were undergraduate students who still needed to complete at least 30 hours toward their degree.
  • Two Fellows from Cohort 1 passed the Praxis 2 exam during the 2019-2020 school year which means that 5 out of the 13 APEC Fellows have passed the Praxis 2 exam to date.
  • 8 out of 23 Fellows from Cohort 2 have passed the Praxis 2 exam.
  • Several Fellows had registered to take the exam but were unable to do so given testing center closings required by COVID-19.

Outcome 4:

APEC Fellows are expected to earn grades of B or higher in all course modules required for certification. At least 80% of Cohort 1 earned a B or higher on all required modules in 2018-2019. 95% of Cohort 2 earned a B or higher on Modules 1, 2, and 3. Module 4 is completed during the summer session 2020.
Outcome 5: Provide professional development workshops and mentor teacher training for employees of our partner districts.

  • The APEC Center directors and staff planned and implemented two Profession Development Days held on February 9, 2019 and February 22, 2020, a Teaching and Mentoring Summit held June 12-14, 2019, and the CERRA Mentor Teacher Training held June 13-14, 2019 and January 28-29, 2020.
  • 67 individuals attended and participated in the February 9th Professional Development Day.
  • 75 individuals attended and participated in the June Summit on Teaching and Mentoring.
  • 8 attended the CERRA Mentor Teacher Training that was sponsored by the APEC Center in 2019.
  • 30 attended the CERRA Mentor Teacher Training in 2020.
  • After each professional development session, participants completed the survey to provide feedback on the session. Overall, the sessions were rated positively by participants.

Outcome 5:

The APEC Center will participate in scholarly conferences and publications to disseminate information regarding the program’s progress, impact, and implementation.

  • Center Staff submitted proposals to the Association of Teacher Educators Summer Conference and the Southeastern Regional Association of Teacher Educators Conference. Both proposals were accepted for presentation at the annual conferences in 2019.
  • APEC Center Directors published a working paper for SC-Teacher published in January 2020.
  • Proposals were submitted and accepted to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the National Association for Alternative Certification (NAAC) for spring 2020. Both conferences were cancelled due to COVID-19.

Although we do not yet have data to examine our participants’ impact on student achievement, survey results and interviews of our participants indicate that they value the cohort experience, support from the faculty, and feedback and mentoring from their college supervisors. One of our participants explained “The Columbia College APEC program has allowed me the unique opportunity to maintain my employment status within Richland School District Two, achieve initial certification in Early Childhood Education, and pursue a master’s degree. I have felt well equipped to complete all academic requirements and fully supported by amazing people along the way. I have been blessed along the APEC pathway and look forward to the many doors certification will open for me in the future.”


Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement (2018). Supply and demand report. Retrieved from

Gertler, P.J., Martinez, S., Premand, P., Rawlings, L.B., Vermeersch, C.M. (2010). Impact Evaluation in Practice. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Guha, R., Hyler, M., Darling-Hammond, L. (2017). The power and potential of teacher residencies. Phi Delta Kappan, 98, 31-37.

Hage, J., Meeus, M. (2006). Innovation, science, and institutional Change. Oxford University Press: New York.

Ingersoll, R. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38, 499–53.

Ingersoll, R., Merrill, L., & May, H. (2014). What are the effects of teacher education and preparation on beginning teacher attrition? Research Report (#RR-82). Philadelphia: Consortium for Policy Research in Education, University of Pennsylvania.

Meyers, Molefe, Brandt, Zhu, & Dhillon (2016). Impact results of the eMINTS professional development validation study. Educational evaluation and policy analysis, 2016, 455-476.

O’Connor, E., Malow, M., Bisland, B. (2011). Mentorship and instruction received during training: Views of alternatively certified teachers. Educational Review, 63, 219-232.

South Carolina Department of Education (2018). Geographic schools for SC Teacher Loan Forgiveness for 2018-2019. Retrieved on December 17, 2018 at

Yarborough, D., Shula, L., Hopson, R, Caruthers, F., (2011). The program evaluation standards: A Guide for Evaluators and Evaluation Users (3rd Edition)

Zhang, G., & Zeller, N. (2016). A longitudinal investigation of the relationships between teacher preparation and teacher retention, Teacher Education Quarterly, 43, 73-92.


Yes, the program is fiscally sustainable. The Columbia College administration is committed to continuing the program beyond the funding provided by CHE. With the addition of partner districts, the Center has attracted more students who will pursue degrees and alternative certification, which will provide additional revenue.

The Center has expanded to include more partner districts. Additionally, the Center is pursuing additional grant programs to support expansion to other areas of the state and to provide more services during the first-year teacher experience.

The program actively recruits participants from within our partner districts. Because participants are also pursuing master’s degree, there are associated costs for the program.

Grades Served

  • General (13+)
  • Professional Development

Related Subjects

  • English Language Arts
  • Math
  • Social Studies

Contact Information 

Marla Sanders,