Danielle Arnold-Schwartz, a teacher in the Lower Merion School District, considers education her calling. Yet, when her 16-year-old daughter began mulling the same career path, she advised her to choose a second major, just in case.

The profession, Arnold-Schwartz warned, has been undermined by skin-and-bones school budgets, testing overkill, increasingly rigorous teacher evaluations, and dimming public respect, among a raft of relatively recent negatives.

"I don't think you'll find this as satisfying as you think," she told her daughter.

That message appears to be resonating among young people who, as never before, are turning away from teaching. The number of U.S. college students graduating with education degrees slipped from 106,300 in 2004 to 98,900 in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A far more spectacular plunge has occurred in Pennsylvania.

In 2013, the state awarded 18,590 teaching certificates. In 2015, it handed out 7,180 - a 61 percent decrease.

Within Pennsylvania's 14 public universities, undergraduates majoring in education - traditionally the most popular subject - rose steadily through the latter 2000s to a peak of 18,287 in 2009, only to plunge to 11,583 in 2015.

In New Jersey, the trend is less dramatic, but undeniable. From 2012 to 2014, the annual count of education graduates slid from 6,639 to 6,169.

It's hard to determine how much of the decline is driven by a dispiriting employment picture. According to the Keystone Research Center, a policy institute in Harrisburg, 27,000 school jobs have been lost in Pennsylvania since 2010, hastened by severe state funding cuts in 2011 and ensuing hiring freezes and layoffs. Meanwhile, student populations have shrunk - especially in Western Pennsylvania, which is losing residents overall.

Temple University has seen a 20 percent decrease in education majors in the last five years. Gregory Anderson, dean of the College of Education, cites not only a diminished job market but also low pay relative to other professions, and the general public's "jaundiced view" of schools.

"If I'm an undergraduate student," he said, "teaching as a profession is not necessarily one shining with possibilities."

At Stockton University in Atlantic County, Claudine Keenan, the education dean, pointed another finger of blame at "this terribly horrible negative rhetoric we're hearing from public officials" about teachers.

As a career in the classroom loses some of its allure, the burnish seems to be on business: From 2004 to 2014, the national ranks of business majors swelled from 307,000 to 358,100. In the same time period, graduates in health fields more than doubled, to 198,800.

At Pennsylvania's state colleges, business has eclipsed education as the top major, said Kenn Marshall, spokesman for the State System of Higher Education.

Marshall's daughter, Megan, graduated in 2013 from Indiana University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English education. When she went to a job fair, only about six of the 160 schools represented were from in-state. Not wanting to work as a substitute - the traditional way in - she took a position in Fredericksburg, Va., at a school that employs several other Pennsylvanians.

While the Philadelphia region has yet to experience widespread teacher shortages, educators say they're growing ever more concerned that Pennsylvania soon will join states from California to North Carolina that are hard-put to fill vacancies.

The prospect is sufficiently worrisome to Pennsylvania Department of Education officials that they are eliminating obstacles to becoming a teacher - for instance, by easing math requirements on the basic skills assessments that teaching students take as sophomores and have struggled to pass.

An expected bump-up in retirements threaten to compound the problem. Even as fewer teachers are being minted, many classroom veterans are likely to bow out in the next few years, said Kevin Zook, dean of education at Philadelphia's Holy Family University. "There are already predictions that Pennsylvania is going to have some severe teacher shortages," he said.

In New Jersey, some urban and low-income areas already are coming up short in their search for teachers. Among them are Camden, Paulsboro, Bridgeton, Vineland, and Millville, plus some Shore towns, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

William Harner, superintendent of the 5,289-student Quakertown Community School District in Upper Bucks County, said there already had been a noticeable drop in applicants at every level. It is becoming harder to fill openings in the most-skilled categories, such as special education and the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

"It's very troubling," Harner said.

The job scene can vary dramatically from district to district, depending upon economic circumstances.

"You can call Philadelphia and they'll say they've had shortages all year," said Richard Ingersoll, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist who studies teaching. "But call up Lower Merion and they'll say they have a waiting list three miles long."

Indeed, the Philadelphia School District - where teachers have not won raises in four years - had some 190 vacant positions while school was underway last October, although officials are hailing the success of an initiative to hire 800 new teachers.

Sean McGrath, 28, of Philadelphia, taught for a year at a school in a poverty-wracked neighborhood near Baton Rouge, La. - before returning home to become a lawyer.

He worked for Teach for America, a nonprofit corps made up of new graduates who are sent into underserved communities. Even though he was given a heavy class load and had students who came to school hungry, he said, he enjoyed the challenge. But in the end, teaching was too draining.

"There comes a point," he said, "where it's not worth it."

Penn's Ingersoll said the demand for new teachers and the supply should prove to be cyclical.

"There's a lot of sort of hand-wringing that this is a problem, but I see it as a natural reaction," he said. "As the market picks up and there's more hiring, I expect to see the enrollments go up."

For Lower Merion teacher Arnold-Schwartz, that's good news. As she told her daughter: "If it's really in you, you have to teach. Or at least you have to try."


610-313-8232 @Kathy_Boccella