Point of View

Taking the early college concept a step further in NC

October 29, 2013 

Just days before a conference in North Carolina about giving all high schoolers early access to college and skills and a pathway to careers, President Obama gave the concept a boost by visiting a school in New York City that epitomizes the positive aspects of the “early college” movement but also advances the model.

When I talk to 500 educators, policymakers and educators Wednesday at the National Early College Conference, co-hosted by Jobs for the Future and North Carolina New Schools, I will explain why this innovative education model has captured so much interest and why it takes the promising model of early college to the next level.

Last Friday, President Obama visited a Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a school – and a model – that IBM helped create with the New York City Department of Education, City University of New York and New York City College of Technology.

P-TECHs span grades 9 to 14, creating a seamless connection from high school, to college, to career. Within six years, students graduate with associate degrees in applied science, engineering, computer science or a related discipline and have what they need to continue their studies or step directly into well-paying jobs in the information technology arena.

IBM and other corporate partners that helped imbed workplace skills directly into the curriculum and interacted regularly with these students will feel comfortable putting graduates “first in line” for entry-level jobs. The school that the president visited is the original in a growing number of these institutions; 16 are planned across New York State and at least half a dozen more in New York City. Four are already in operation in Chicago.

Early college and other high-performing schools exist in many other places, so why is the P-TECH grades 9 to 14 model so promising?

For starters, it’s not just a high school. The program spans the six years between grades 9 and 14, not 9 and 12. Most kids will finish in six years, but many students are on track to finish earlier. Second, the school, while special, has no special admissions requirement. It accepts every child who applies through an open lottery system. Third, while the curriculum offers a strong academic focus, it also provides deep connection to the world of work by incorporating workplace skills directly into the curricula. Fourth, students finish with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in an area connected directly to strong labor force demand. Finally, graduates are first in line for jobs with their school’s corporate partners. Corporate partners provide mentors for every student, structured workplace visits, internships and the like.

P-TECH has already produced some outstanding results with students completing college courses at a rapid rate and passing college-readiness criteria. More compelling still is that these students are from seriously disadvantaged backgrounds, making P-TECH even more attractive as a model.

Dispelling the assumption that this model can succeed only in urban areas and with Fortune 500 partners, Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York selected 16 sites for new P-TECH schools across urban, suburban and rural areas and attracted corporate partners from smaller businesses, including in the health care, banking, retail and advanced manufacturing areas. Now, many other states, cities and school districts are expressing interest in the P-TECH concept because this model can operate within existing expenditures and regulations. They will use the publicly available blueprint – now being put into electronic form – that IBM developed for the first P-TECH.

This couldn’t come at a more opportune time. Labor market trends tell us that millions of new jobs requiring the kind of technical associate’s degree-level skills acquired at P-TECHs will be created over the next few years. Juxtapose that with the unfortunate fact that only 1 of every 4 students across the U.S. who register at community colleges completes the two-year program. We are falling behind other countries that emphasize science, technology, engineering and math.

When the president visited the original P-TECH in Brooklyn, he was sending a message that America is determined to regain its competitive edge and retake its rightful place as a leader in the discovery and advancement of knowledge and progress.

Stanley S. Litow, a former deputy chancellor of New York City Public Schools, is IBM’s vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, and president of IBM’s International Foundation.

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