School Ties: P-TECH Shines in State of the Union Address

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY that the president of the United States mentions The City University of New York. But during February’s State of the Union address, Barack Obama highlighted a University program that prepares high school students for technical careers called Pathways in Technology Early College High School.

“Let’s make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job,” said President Obama, urging the creation of more schools like P-TECH that better equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. “We’ll reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers and create classes that focus on science, technology, engineering and math — the skills today’s employers are looking for to fill jobs right now and in the future,” he added.

A six-year high school, P-TECH is a public-private collaboration of CUNY, the New York City Department of Education and corporate partner IBM that opened in 2011. Students can earn associate degrees from New York City College of Technology. The school focuses on information technology, computers, engineering, math and science. And IBM provides students with mentors and internships.

“It’s more of a challenging economic situation… this is one way to make sure students have the credentials to enter the job market,” says P-TECH founding principal Rashid Ferrod Davis, who didn’t know the school would be mentioned in the State of the Union address. “I wasn’t even watching it. I got all these text messages about it and then I started getting calls from reporters — I didn’t get off the phone until 2 a.m.,” joked Davis, who wasn’t surprised by the attention the program has received.

“Look at the conversation surrounding the U.S. slipping in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. To continue to be competitive, [programs like P-TECH] are one way to ensure more Americans are hired for tech jobs,” says Davis who added that he would like to see CUNY expand its early college initiative to more NYC high schools.

President Obama - 2013 State of the Union address

President Obama – 2013 State of the Union address

“It’s great to have CUNY recognized as a leader for new models in education and I think the president mentioned P-TECH because of its high potential,” says Cass Conrad, executive director of the Early College Initiative, School Support and Development at CUNY.
“There is a lot of promise in these programs — the idea of working with local employers to make sure our degree program is in line with growing fields ultimately strengthens our connection to the workforce,” says Conrad, who also was speaking on the importance of developing more programs like P-TECH at CUNY.

In the fall of 2013, CUNY intends to open two more early-college high schools with business partners to prepare students for technical careers with a third scheduled to open in 2014. The schools slated to open in the fall are Energy Tech High School, founded in partnership with LaGuardia Community College and Con Edison/National Grid; and HERO — Health, Education, Research Occupations High School, in collaboration with Hostos Community College and a local Bronx hospital.

While P-TECH is the first school in the nation that connects high school, college and the world of work through public-private partnership, it isn’t the first early-college program at CUNY, says Conrad. The Early College Initiative is a partnership of NYC public schools and colleges within the CUNY system in which high school students can earn college credit. There are 12 of such early colleges at CUNY, including programs at Brooklyn College Academy, Manhattan Hunter Science High School and the City College Academy of Arts.