P-TECH Schools: A Win for Colorado Students

Colorado’s workforce is changing, and a high school diploma is no longer enough to guarantee future success or employment. By 2020, 74% of Colorado jobs will require some postsecondary education. But currently, less than a quarter of Colorado’s students receive that level of training.

In order to better prepare Colorado’s students for our state’s growing middle-skill jobs, Colorado Succeeds led efforts to bring the innovative P-TECH school model to our state beginning in 2015. P-TECH, or Pathways in Technology Early College High School, is a new school model that has received national attention for its ability to prepare career-ready graduates with the skills needed for in-demand STEM jobs.

With Colorado employers currently spending $19 million each year to import higher skill workers, we knew that taking action and bringing P-TECH to Colorado couldn’t wait.

“Statewide, our homegrown workforce isn’t what it needs to be,” says Luke Ragland, Vice President of Policy for Colorado Succeeds. “Our students aren’t as successful as they could be because we don’t always do a good job of engaging them in meaningful ways. We need to show them how their education applies to the real world.”

STEM Jobs Outpacing Every Sector

STEM jobs are outpacing every other sector, and many of these occupations don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree. P-TECH schools create a seamless six-year pathway for students to graduate from high school and earn a two-year Associate’s degree in Applied Science at no cost to them. Students simultaneously work in real-world settings, which helps them gain the technical and professional skills they need to work in our state’s most promising fields. The model originated in Brooklyn as a partnership among the New York City Department of Education, two New York colleges, and IBM.

By exposing students to a variety of career opportunities and giving them the chance to solve real-world problems, P-TECH does two things:

  1. It creates relevance. It answers the age-old question “why does what I’m learning in school matter?”
  2. It creates inspiration. It gives students an opportunity to envision a world of possibilities that they may have otherwise not considered.

P-TECH accomplishes this by bringing together traditional school districts, business, and higher education as three legs of a stool, ultimately creating a meaningful educational experience for students. Upon graduation, students can choose to continue their studies at a four-year school, or to enter the workforce with industry connections and the skills for well paying, middle class jobs.

“When educators partner with businesses, our students and our communities thrive,” said Colorado House Majority Leader Crisanta Duran, who sponsored legislation to establish P-TECH schools in Colorado.

HB-1270, the P-TECH bill, requires strong partnership between a school district, a community college, and one or more employers. The three partners work together to plan, develop, and launch a P-TECH school. This means that, for the first time, local businesses are able to help create the entire plan for a school and engage in shared decision-making for the school’s operation.

The law also stipulates that students receive invaluable workplace learning experiences, including internships, mentorships, and will be first in line for jobs with the school’s business partner.

By requiring strong cooperation between all three partners, P-TECH helps ensure that what is taught in schools is directly applicable to the workplace. This innovative model starts to solve the root of the problem facing Colorado’s education system and workforce pipeline.

“Employer engagement is essential to solve the disconnect between what’s being taught in schools and what industry needs,” said Ray Johnson, Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs Manager of IBM. “Industry and education have to do a better a job of preparing our students to fill the huge skills gap in everything from high tech to healthcare.” 

P-TECH Passed with Bipartisan Support

Johnson worked closely with Colorado Succeeds and Majority Leader Duran to build support for the P-TECH bill, which passed in May 2015. Colorado Succeeds successfully rallied the business community around the bill, with the Colorado Technology Association, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce signing on as supporters of the bill. Colorado Succeeds also spearheaded advocacy efforts at the capitol, testifying in front of the House and Senate education committees and ensuring school leaders had the opportunity to make their voices heard. P-TECH ultimately made it across the finish line with bipartisan support.

“P-TECH would never have happened without Colorado Succeeds to make connections and push through barriers. Colorado Succeeds was instrumental in getting the P-TECH bill passed and signed.”

Regina Renaldi, Assistant Superintendent of Area 3 and Priority Programs at St. Vrain Valley Schools

In addition to bringing this model to Colorado, IBM is also partnering with Front Range Community College and St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont to launch their P-TECH program, which will be one of the first in Colorado. St. Vrain’s program will begin serving students in the 2016-17 school year at Skyline High School. Students who complete the program will earn an Associates of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Systems from Front Range Community College and be eligible for internship and mentorship opportunities with IBM.

“Some of our students are thinking about college, perhaps to become an engineer or to pursue other careers outside STEM disciplines,” says Patty Quinones, St. Vrain’s Executive Director of Innovation. “But there’s another group of students who may not have the money or the same opportunity to go past high school. P-TECH provides a chance for these students to see themselves in a professional career.”

Johnson agrees. “It’s a myth that everyone needs a four-year degree to be successful.”

P-TECH Schools Opening

According to Quinones, 60-75 students will comprise the first cohort of P-TECH students in the district. “We’re hoping to engage additional industry partners,” she adds. “Industry has always said they want to help, and P-TECH specifies ways we can work together to better educate, train, and mentor our students.”

Businesses across the state and from diverse industries are stepping up to partner with schools and get involved in P-TECH, including Level 3 Communications. Level 3 is working with Adams 12 Five Star Schools to launch P-TECH at Northglenn High School. Northglenn’s P-TECH program, called EC@N-STEM, will also open in the 2016-17 school year. Colorado Succeeds worked closely with Adams 12 leadership, including Superintendent Chris Gdowski and District STEM Coordinator Kellie Lauth, throughout the P-TECH application process.

“Colorado Succeeds is changing the partnership game. Bridging private-public sectors to bring opportunities, like P-TECH, to Colorado is invaluable,” said Lauth. “We are stronger and our resources more viable when we work together, and Colorado Succeeds is leading the charge to ensure smart educational policies benefit our students and communities. A catalyst for innovation, P-TECH is another example that Colorado Succeeds is shifting both the educational and workforce development landscapes for the better.”

EC@N-STEM will serve roughly 36 incoming freshman. EC@N-STEM students will have the opportunity to gain relevant work experience with Level 3 Communications, an international telecommunications company with a large presence in Colorado. “It really is all about connecting students not only to workforce, but preparing students to be instantly employable and to achieve that livable wage job going forward.” Lauth said.

“It is no longer just about transforming a students’ academic trajectory, now it must be about transforming their economic trajectory.”

Kellie Lauth, District STEM Coordinator at Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Now that the path is cleared, Colorado Succeeds will continue to work closely with districts and businesses to open additional P-TECH schools. Our state’s first P-Tech Schools will be opening in Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Falcon District 49, and St. Vrain in the 2016-2017 school year.

“P-TECH outdid partisan gridlock in the House and Senate. By working together, we passed legislation that will lead to systemic change,” said Ragland. “We’re looking forward to working with these innovative district partners to ensure a successful rollout and will continue to encourage business to get involved with these critical programs. All Colorado students deserve access to education that’s relevant and leads to the middle class and beyond.”

Learn more about P-TECH or opening a P-TECH school by visiting our P-TECH resource page.

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Colorado Succeeds