At a time when more than a quarter of students don't graduate from high school, the last thing you'd expect is for a city to make it harder to get a degree. But a new technology-focused, six-year high school in New York City is asking students to do just that in return for a more secure job outlook.
When students finally do graduate from Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech), they'll leave with a high school diploma, an associate degree in computer science, and potential job opportunities already lined up.
The school opened in September as a partnership between computing giant IBM, the New York City Department of Education, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the City University of New York.
IBM gets the chance to groom students for employment, and students get a free associate degree and will be "at the front of the line" to be hired for entry-level positions at the company, according to Stanley Litow, IBM Foundation president.
"We have large numbers of jobs for kids with associate's degrees," Litow says.
The creation of grades "13" and "14" allows the school to focus on career training, according to P-Tech Principal Rashid Davis. The six-year curriculum is heavy on co-op and internship opportunities, especially during those final two years. Each student is assigned an IBM mentor, so that students can put a face to the profession they are pursuing.
[Learn more about science and math education in the STEM Education Center.]
The plan is to "work with the leadership of the school to match the curriculum with the skill requirements at IBM," Litow says. The company is planning to open five more schools based on the P-Tech model in Chicago next year, and is in talks with other cities to open similar schools. Although P-Tech was designed with input from IBM, students will have the opportunity to intern with other tech companies as the school partners with other corporations, Davis says.
The school operates under New York City's open-enrollment program, meaning students from any of the five boroughs can apply. Unlike many other science and technology-focused high schools, P-Tech does not select its 108 students by merit, meaning even students who aren't math and science whizzes are eligible to be admitted.
[Find out which high schools are the best for math and science.]
Its curriculum differs from other dual-enrollment programs, which typically allow students to get a few college credits from a local community college during their junior and senior years of high school, because the degrees at P-Tech are earned simultaneously. If students were to withdraw from P-Tech after four years, they wouldn't earn either degree.
Davis says this idea of "delayed gratification" is a hard sell for some, but he believes that students will ultimately leave the school well-prepared for a job. The school is perfect for motivated students who might not have money to attend college, are willing to work hard, and are eager to have more certainty in a rough economic climate, he adds.
Not all students are ready to commit to six years of education. The wide variety of entering students means some students have to play catch-up to reach the appropriate level of math and science required. The school has an extended day and is planning on offering summer classes in order to help all students enter calculus by their senior year.
To prevent students from leaving early for a traditional college, the curriculum was designed to allow students to earn more than half of the credits necessary for an associate degree by the end of their fourth year. They'll attain both their high school diploma and associate degree at the end of their sixth year.
They've essentially made college mandatory for entering students, Litow says. "We know that a high school diploma is not enough for students," he says. The idea of graduating more students with at least an associate degree is "an idea whose time has come."
Davis says he tries to "re-educate people to understand the importance of a two-year degree" at informational sessions for the school. "We're not trying to build the opportunity for students to get college credits and then leave after four years," he says.