Program overview

  • Preparing high school students for college and careers in STEM fields: Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P-TECH) is a workforce-oriented high school model that aims to reduce barriers to entering STEM fields. The model combines secondary education, higher education, and workforce preparation through a six-year program in which students earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree and gain valuable work experience.

  • Operated by school districts through public-private partnerships: P-TECH schools typically operated by public school districts. Implementing school districts establish partnerships between their P-TECH school, a local community college, and at least one local employer. Through these partnerships, students can earn an associate’s degree free of charge and engage in work-based learning experiences such as shadowing or paid internships.

  • Encompassing both high school and higher education coursework: Students enter P-TECH schools in ninth grade and then earn both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree over the course of six years in school. The first year is dedicated exclusively to high school course work, with years two through four combining an accelerated high school course track with non-major-specific college courses. Across these first four years, students also take many career and technical education (CTE) courses, such as architecture, electrical engineering, or professional communication. In their final two years in the program, students focus on college courses for their selected major.

  • Offering work-based learning experiences: P-TECH schools offer a variety of opportunities to help students gain knowledge and experience in their STEM fields of interest. While specific opportunities vary across individual schools, they may include internships, mentoring, job shadowing, worksite visits, or hands-on project days.

One study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for P-TECH high schools as a strategy for improving college and career readiness.

  • A 2023 randomized controlled trial found that, seven years after entering high school, P-TECH students were five percentage points more likely to have completed an associate’s degree than individuals in a comparison group. However, most of this effect reflects the program’s impact on male participants.

  • The same study also found that P-TECH students were 38 percentage points more likely to complete an internship and 26 percentage points more likely to have completed a dual enrollment course while in high school, when compared to individuals in the comparison group.

  • Recruit students using clear communication of program expectations: Since P-TECH schools offer a unique and demanding secondary education and workforce training experience, it is important that students and families who apply for these schools understand the expectations and requirements in advance. The ideal student for a P-TECH school is interested in STEM fields, appreciates hands-on learning, is able to participate in extended or out-of-school programs, and can commit to the full six-year P-TECH academic trajectory. While P-TECH schools typically do not have entrance requirements and instead rely on lottery systems for admission, it is important to plan and execute dedicated recruitment events to reach students and families who may be a good fit for P-TECH programs.

  • Hire dedicated staff to support unique P-TECH responsibilities: To implement the P-TECH model without overburdening existing staff, school districts should hire dedicated staff for recruitment, college counseling, and managing employer partnerships. These staff members may include a recruiter to connect with 8th grade students, answer questions, and coordinate information sessions; a college liaison to help students establish educational and career plans, advise them on career pathways, coordinate with the community college partner, and manage the criteria and logistics of dual enrollment; and an industry program manager to coordinate, plan, and implement all aspects of programs and events related to industry partners (e.g., mentoring, internships, on-site learning).

  • Establish a wide range of employer partnerships: When recruiting industry partners, P-TECH schools should highlight the benefits that private companies can accrue through the partnership, as exemplified in this sample brochure. These industry partnerships are central to the P-TECH model, and benefit students by facilitating career-oriented learning and providing post-graduation job opportunities.

  • Track progress and performance on key outcome metrics: P-TECH schools should track both intermediate and long-term outcomes related to program goals in order to assess where the program is working and where there may be areas for improvement. These metrics could include data such as the proportion of students earning their high school diploma within four years, the percentage of students who earn an associate’s degree within six years, total hours of college credits earned, or the percentage of students who are hired after graduation by an employer partner.