THERE IS NO better time than now to rethink what a high school education should deliver. Students, especially those of color and from low-income communities, deserve and need more than a traditional high school degree to succeed – they need the postsecondary credentials and career preparation required to compete for good jobs that will be created in the wake of the pandemic and to fuel the state’s economic recovery from it.
Parents are clamoring for change. In an April 2021 national survey, 58 percent of parents said they want to take advantage of new federal funds to make bold changes in public education, rather than just funding the status quo. What rises to the top of their wish lists is a greater effort to prepare students for college and career. It’s a priority for business leaders as well.
The P-TECH high school model stands out as one emerging effective approach to meet the needs of students and employers alike. P-TECHs are public schools that provide a seamless pathway from high school through college and career. The acronym stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. P-TECH high schools specifically prepare students for technology careers and offer the STEM high school and college courses needed to help them qualify for those jobs. Students enroll for as long as six years, allowing them to earn a high school diploma and a no-cost industry-recognized associate’s degree that will enable them to secure a competitive entry-level position in a growing STEM field and to continue, if and when they choose, to complete study in a four-year higher education institution. P-TECH students also gain significant job exposure and earn specific skills and experience to position them to flourish in their chosen technology industry career.
Between 2018 and 2028, one of out of every three jobs created in Massachusetts will be in STEM fields, according to state estimates using Bureau of Labor Statistics. These jobs pay family-sustaining wages and offer career ladders for growth and advancement. Creating pathways to these opportunities for all students, but particularly for Black and Latino students who are underrepresented in these fields, is essential to closing wage and wealth gaps that threaten our economy. Importantly, P-TECHs have intentionally been launched primarily in low-income communities with large populations of students of color to accelerate access to STEM careers from historically underserved communities.
There are more than 150 P-TECH high schools operating in 10 states. None of them are located here in Massachusetts. It’s time for that to change.
P-TECH was invented 10 years ago through a partnership between IBM, the New York City Public Schools, and the City University of New York (CUNY). All P-TECHS are deep partnerships between one or a few companies (usually from the same industry), a college offering degrees aligned with that industry, and a newly created public high school. Massachusetts has plenty of highly qualified and interested employers and well-positioned colleges, and Boston and the Gateway Cities have students in need of greater opportunity for success in college and career.
P-TECH high schools have the capacity to bring together proven innovations and approaches that are already happening in disconnected ways in Massachusetts high schools. They combine an emphasis on postsecondary degree completion similar to what we’re seeing in the state’s very successful Early College programs, and they offer exposure to careers and work-readiness experiences similar to those that make our vocational technical schools the envy of the nation and that are attracting students to our Innovation Pathways programs. Students gain work-based learning experiences with specific employers throughout their time in a P-TECH program and their courses of study are specifically aligned to the career opportunities in their partner companies’ industries.
We owe it to students to take bold action to deliver a dynamic and relevant high school education that prepares them for success in the jobs our employers create. As we recover from the economic devastation of the pandemic, we must strongly embrace innovations in education that meet that goal. P-TECH stands out as one of the innovations.
Chris Gabrieli is chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. Ed Lambert is executive director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education.