Bridging High School, College, and the World of Work: The P-TECH 9-14 School Model

April 23, 2017
Executive Director, The Philadelphia Foundation

Education and the economy, while inextricably linked, are not always aligned. Throughout America, there are young people whose talents remain untapped and, as a result, are outside the economic mainstream. At the same time, there are jobs going unfilled because businesses cannot find skilled workers. 

In today’s economy, the majority of jobs in the United States, in fact in every state in the union, are middle skill—or what IBM calls “new collar” jobs. These are jobs that require more than a high school education but not a four-year degree, and most important offer family-sustaining career opportunities. According to the National Skills Coalition, while these jobs account for 53% of the nation’s labor market, only 43% of America’s workers are prepared to fill them.

Why the disconnect? Nationwide, about 20% of community college students finish their degrees within three years. For Black males, the statistics are far worse, with only 11% of Black male students finishing their community college degrees within three years.

The good news is that the public and private sectors are joining forces to simultaneously address education and economic improvement. One powerful solution is the P-TECH 9-14 School Model.

IBM, along with the New York City Department of Education and The City University of New York, created P-TECH in 2011 as a public-private partnership model that blends free, public high schooling with community college and workplace learning. Within six years, students graduate with a high school diploma and an industry-recognized two-year postsecondary degree in a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field, and are first in line for jobs with the industry partner. The schools feature integrated high school and college coursework, along with workplace learning that includes mentoring for all students, worksite visits, speakers, project days, and skills-based internships. The curriculum is mapped to entry-level jobs to ensure that students graduate career ready.

P-TECH has an open admissions policy—with no grading or testing requirements—and is designed to serve historically underserved young people, many of whom will be the first in their families to earn a college degree. The model relies heavily on existing school district budgets and is viable in both urban and rural communities.

The model has garnered cooperation and support from local school districts, government officials, and college and industry partners. To date, more than 300 large and small companies across the country are working with educators and states to adopt this model. There are now 55 schools across six U.S. states—New York, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Colorado, and Rhode Island—as well as seven schools in Australia. The model will launch in additional schools in the U.S. and internationally this year. 

Most important, we are seeing results. For example, the first P-TECH school, P-TECH Brooklyn, and its first class of students are  now in their final year—Year 6—of the model. Today, there are more than 550 students attending P-TECH Brooklyn, all of whom were accepted into the school solely based on interest, not grades or testing requirements. The vast majority (approximately 78%) are Black and Hispanic males. More than 70% of students are on free or reduced-price lunch and 17% have individual education programs because of special learning needs. Against this backdrop, 54 students have graduated with their high school diploma and associate in applied science degree, all accelerating through the six-year model in 3.5 to 5.5 years. Nine graduates are working at IBM in early career roles, while the other graduates are pursuing ongoing education.

These results, which are just the tip of the iceberg, are also addressing diversity needs in STEM industries, particularly IT, by enriching business with skilled talent from underrepresented backgrounds. Doing so is a matter of equity and fairness, but also a matter of innovation and economic growth.