New graduates at spring commencement in May 2015 at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. (Courtesy of McDaniel College)

Howard County schools officials announced a new effort this week to improve workforce diversity, forging a partnership with McDaniel College that will provide full scholarships to low-income students who commit to three years of employment in the Maryland school system after graduation.

Described by those involved as the first program of its kind, the initiative comes amid efforts by a number of school systems to improve the diversity of their teacher corps. Nationally, the percentage of minority students is far larger than that of minority teachers.

The Maryland State Board of Education has declared minority teachers an area of shortage for more than a decade.

In Howard, Teachers for Tomorrow (T4T) has been in the making for six months and will target academically successful low-income students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school. About 87 percent of those eligible are minorities, school district figures show.

Howard school officials say a recent analysis showed that low-income students were 20 percent less likely to attend college than other graduates. The new program is expected to include a minimum of 12 students for at least four years.

“Howard County is a majority-minority school system, but the teaching workforce does not reflect that,” said county Schools Superintendent Renee Foose, estimating that about 15 percent of Howard teachers are African American, Asian or Latino. “I think it’s very important that we have teachers that reflect our student body.”

The effort will accommodate students with interests outside of teaching, too, so long as they minor in education and earn a teaching certificate. A student with an interest in accounting, for example, might major in that subject and minor in education. After graduation, the student might work in a school district accounting job but also teach a class or mentor part of the time.

McDaniel College President Roger N. Casey said his institution is glad to partner with the county, seeing the effort as a continuation of its interests in serving first-generation college students. Thirty-six percent of the members of McDaniel’s freshman class are students of color and 40 percent are first-generation college students, Casey said.

Casey noted that three recent Maryland teachers of the year were McDaniel graduates.

McDaniel, a private liberal arts college in Westminster, has about 1,700 full-time undergraduate students.

With the cost of an education at McDaniel at more than $50,000 next year, Howard County will pay $12,000 per student and McDaniel will cover costs that are not funded by state and federal aid, officials said. Students will not be expected to take out loans, Casey said.

Foose said the effort is intended to help the school system while helping students and the community.

“We’re changing the lives of students who otherwise would not consider a college education at McDaniel,” she said.