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Spotlight on a High School STEM Program Offering Free College

Spotlight on a High School STEM Program Offering Free College

Years ago, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education was marked by textbook reading and memorization of facts. With these educational practices, the United States fell behind other nations in STEM learning outcomes. As a result, the US government and industry and educational leaders made changes to STEM learning.

Now, STEM education in the US is known for hands-on activities and problem-solving group work. At the high school level, leading STEM education innovations include robotics programs in schools as well as schools embedded in workplaces. In the past few years, another new initiative in STEM education has taken shape: P-TECH. Read on to learn more about this program designed to offer free college degrees to high school students interested in STEM career fields.

The History of P-TECH


P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, was launched in 2011 by IBM in partnership with a high school in Brooklyn, the New York City Department of Education, and the City University of New York’s New York City College of Technology. Since then, the program has expanded to include close to 90 colleges and more than 500 industry partners.

Additionally, P-TECH is found at more than 100 schools across the states of Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas as well as international locations including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Morocco, and Taiwan.

The P-TECH Educational Model

The P-TECH model is based on six key tenets:

  • A public-private partnership
  • A six-year integrated program (includes a high school diploma and an associate’s degree)
  • Workplace learning
  • Open enrollment
  • Cost-free
  • First in line for jobs

Whereas the original P-TECH school in Brooklyn focused on information technology education, newer schools have focused on other industries to prepare students to perform within their local economies. These industries include health care, advanced manufacturing, and energy technology.

The P-TECH Administrative Model

The administration of P-TECH schools is based on shared-governance principles in which the school, the college, and the industry partner work collaboratively to reach goals. During the first seven years of a P-TECH school, the high school, the college, and the industry partner can follow an established set of steps to ensure smooth administration of the program.

For example, in the planning year, the high school focuses on recruiting students and staff, the college focuses on determining which degree programs to offer and which staff and faculty members will be involved, and the industry partner focuses on deciding which entry-level skills are most needed and which staff member will take a leadership role in the program.

Once the school opens, the six years that follow each have their own administrative steps to ensure the smooth operation of the program. Some highlights from these steps include collecting demographic data about students to enable outcome assessments, offering professional development opportunities for teachers to encourage project-based learning activities, creating field trip opportunities to the college campus and industry partner workplaces, and developing a mentorship program. Additional steps, such as providing academic support services to students, instituting project days to highlight student workplace learning, launching an internship program, and recognizing graduates through ceremonies and celebrations, are also outlined.

Promising Results of P-TECH

According to P-TECH, all students in the first cohort earned their high school diplomas—an impressive 100 percent completion rate for an open-admissions program with no screening criteria. Additionally, P-TECH indicates that students in the first group of graduates completed their associate’s degrees on time at a rate over four times the national rate of community college on-time graduation (13 percent). Finally, P-TECH statistics show that 80 percent of students in the first cohort benefited from paid internship opportunities.

When looking at students from P-TECH schools that were started in more recent years, results remain impressive. P-TECH indicates that in the state of New York, for example, 95 percent of students at P-TECH schools earned their high school diplomas within four years, a rate higher than the statewide average of 82.1 percent. Additionally, according to P-TECH, several students in New York P-TECH schools completed their associate’s degrees during their high school years, in advance of the additional two years it normally takes to earn a community college diploma. This allowed these students to begin their STEM careers or to begin taking courses toward a four-year STEM degree sooner than their peers.

The Future of P-TECH

The P-TECH program has plans to expand to even more locations, including future international locations in Argentina, Canada, Czech Republic, England, France, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, and Singapore.

Additionally, the program has placed advertisements on television channels in the United States in hopes of finding more school partners. Those interested in starting new P-TECH schools are encouraged to contact the organization for more information.

9 of the Best STEM Books for Young Adults

9 of the Best STEM Books for Young Adults

One way that parents can involve themselves in their children’s learning in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is to provide access to necessary resources, such as books. For parents looking for a selection of quality STEM books, the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) nominates a number of young adult nonfiction books for its… Continue Reading