Pipeline to employment

P-TECH solidifies as a signature New York State education program

by David Kraus

On Board Online • November 20, 2017

By David Kraus
Special Correspondent

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo runs for president, what educational achievement will he brag about? One possibility: P-TECH.

P-TECH stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. The P-TECH concept started with a pilot program in 2011 in Brooklyn by a partnership between the New York City Department of Education, City University of New York and IBM. In February 2013, Gov. Cuomo made it a statewide initiative and began including millions of dollars in his annual budget proposals.

Currently, there are 32 state-funded P-TECHs throughout the state. Each offers a unique, six-year program that combines high school, college, and career training. Targeted at academically and/or economically at-risk students, P-TECHs focus on skills needed in technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and finance. Students who complete the program earn an associate's degree at no cost.

In addition, New York City funds five schools using the same grade 9-14 model, including the flagship Brooklyn P-TECH.

According to the State Education Department, the 32 state-funded P-TECHs enroll 3,357 students representing 163 school districts (44 of which are in "priority" status). Partners include 26 colleges and 431 businesses.

SED is currently considering proposals to fund another seven schools in 2018. (Proposals were due on Nov. 15.)

Schools following the same model have sprung up in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Rhode Island. Last spring, new legislation passed in Texas to begin schools there as well.

"We are in an economy that demands students have post-secondary education," said Robin Willner, director of the New York State P-TECH Leadership Council. She is a former IBM executive who has been involved in the P-TECH concept since it originated at that company.

"We cannot sustain growth with a workforce that is unprepared," Willner said. "Our employers are telling us they have a workforce issue. Their local talent pipeline is not prepared the way it should be, and they are eager to find a solution."

Each program begins in ninth grade and then expands to 10th, 11th and 12th depending on student interest.

State funding comes in the form of competitive grants. Schools must identify partners in business and higher education.

State funding for the P-TECH program was $6.8 million in the 2017-18 budget, up 70 percent from the $4 million allocated in 2016-17. The 2017-18 budget restricted grants to programs in computer science. Federal Perkins funds are also used to support P-TECHs.

Instruction has three main components. First, students receive hands-on instruction that highlights technical, critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Coursework includes college level courses that help them accumulate credits toward associate's degrees at affiliated community colleges. Along the way students receive additional support and education from local participating businesses, including site tours, mentoring and direct work experience.

While it's early to judge results, statistics look good, according to Willner. So far:

The original 16 schools that opened in September 2014, were joined by 10 additional schools in September 2015, and six more school-business partnerships in September 2016.

Employers remain intrigued by the program. An Oct. 20 event at Hudson Valley Community College's TEC-SMART campus in Malta drew more than 50 registrants, and two attending employers signed up the next day to participate. The event was one of five held so far around the state in conjunction with local chambers of commerce, and the number of participating business across the state has reached 431.

"Current employers recruit other employers," said Willner.

"Almost every company said the kids exceeded their expectations," said Matt Sheehan, assistant principal for the Center for Career and Technical Excellence at Broome-Tioga BOCES. In his area, 152 students are enrolled in P-TECH tracks including computer science, engineering, and health studies.

This past summer, 25 worked in six-week paid internships for local companies ranging from multi-national conglomerate Lockheed Martin to locally owned businesses such as a civil engineering firm, ambulance service, funeral home, and BOCES' own regional IT support facility. Nine of them are either still working for the employers or have applied to do so beginning next May.

"Our expectation was that this is an amazing opportunity for our community," Sheehan said. "We have the jobs but not the trained labor force, so this connects them and it's a pipeline to employment for our students."

Tom Colwell, Senior Project Engineer for Delta Engineers, Architects, & Land Surveyors DPC in Endwell, near Binghamton, echoed Sheehan's satisfaction with the program's internship component. He praised intern Brock Wherter from the Harpersville Central School District and the preparation he received through the P-TECH program.

"We've had other interns in here who didn't go through P-TECH, and you could definitely tell the difference," said Colwell. "It was very refreshing to have someone of his caliber in here working with us."

The company is interested in hosting further P-TECH interns and is considering hiring Wherter, their 2017 P-TECH intern, in a full-time position.

Students interviewed by On Board had nothing but praise for the program. Erin Canty, a senior at Saratoga Springs High School, said she heard about P-TECH in ninth grade and "It sounded like a great opportunity, especially because it was free and I wasn't really sure where I wanted to go. So I thought it was a good place to start."

She said she's found it valuable to be able to take college level courses for both the credits and the advance look at the college experience.

"It gives me the advantage that I know what to expect when I go to college full time so I can prepare study habits and manage my time better."

She will also have a head start on college, with 27 credits by the time she graduates from high school next spring. That's almost half of the 64 she will need to graduate from SUNY Adirondack Community College, where she wants to study biomedical engineering.

"I'm definitely happy that I chose to take it. It's prepared me for college and it will prepare me for a great career when I get out of college."

Queensbury senior Caleb Bondy said the program's emphasis on manufacturing has combined well with his plans to study electrical or chemical engineering at SUNY Adirondack.

"I thought this would be a great opportunity, and I think it's worked out great, especially with the manufacturing. It has to be hands on. Manufacturing is hands-on, and it's a great way to learn this."

One bellwether of P-TECH's future is the flagship school in Brooklyn, which is now in its sixth year of operation and has seen students earn associate degrees.

Willner said that of the 97 original students, six transferred to other schools, and 100 percent of the remaining 91 students will graduate from high school by the end of this school year.

In addition, 48 students will complete their associate degrees this year. That's a completion rate of 53 percent - more than 3 times the average for CUNY community colleges.

"Given that the students were not screened for academic preparation, these results are particularly compelling," Willner said.

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