Arizona High School to Offer STEM Degrees

New STEM high school diplomas will focus on college and career readiness.

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More than half of students who enter college as engineering majors eventually leave the field before graduating, many during their freshman year. In fact, a 2006 study by Penn State University researchers found that 41 percent of engineering majors who left the field said that their high school didn't adequately prepare them for college coursework.

That's why, starting next year, Perry High School in Gilbert, Ariz., will offer students the chance to earn one of two special "STEM Diplomas" that the school says will better prepare students for college and careers.

The rigorous program will "offer a blend of classroom course work and real world experience along with project based learning," according to the school's information packet. In addition to a standard high school diploma, students would earn either a "STEM Diploma" or a "STEM Scholar Diploma." Both special degrees would require students to take five math classes, including Advanced Placement statistics, and six science and engineering credits, but students seeking a scholar diploma will also have to participate in summer workshops and job programs.

"The ultimate goal of the program is to prepare students for college readiness in science, medicine, engineering and math majors," according to a letter the school sent to interested parents. "Students who complete the program and earn a STEM Diploma or STEM Scholar Diploma will receive several academic endorsements and special recognition at graduation."

Before their senior year, scholar graduates will have to complete a job shadowing program with a STEM professional or take classes with the Arizona State University Polytechnic program. Graduates will be automatically admitted to ASU, and the university will offer Engineering 101 and 102 at the high school. Nearby Chandler Gilbert Community College will offer dual enrollment opportunities for students to take college courses in biotechnology, computer science, and engineering.

There is a drawback, however. Students will be required to pay for college credit earned—up to $592 per credit at ASU and $76 per credit at the community college, though the high school says financial aid will be available for students whose families need it.