President Barack Obama steps off the Marine One helicopter as...

President Barack Obama steps off the Marine One helicopter as Sen. Chuck Schumer waits at left, after he landed in Prospect Park in Brooklyn to visit Pathways in Technology Early College High School in October 2013. Credit: AP/Charles Dharapak

In his 2013 State of the Union speech, then-President Barack Obama called out a new New York school for praise. PTECH, which had opened in Brooklyn two years before, was the nation's first school providing students in grades 9-14 a concurrent high school diploma and a competitive two-year community college degree. The school's business partner, IBM, offered students mentoring and paid internships, and ensured completing students would be first in line for available jobs. Obama later helicoptered into Prospect Park and visited the school, saying that this was an opportunity that should be “made available to all students”

Eleven years later, there are over 350 PTECH schools across 15 states and 28 countries involving hundreds of business partners, all attempting to realize Obama's vision. Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business School says PTECH was the most scalable and effective school model in the nation.

The state that started it all, New York, now has 60 PTECH schools across every economic development region of the state. One program pairs students at Uniondale and Freeport high schools with Farmingdale State College. A recent independent evaluation completed by the MDRC research institute documented increased passing rates on state Regents exams, increased college course completion, and higher graduation rates for PTECH students despite the schools serving more low-income students and students of color. Two-thirds of the cybersecurity degrees awarded by Orange County Community College go to PTECH students from upstate Newburgh.

But there more than 1,500 public high schools in New York. While PTECH schools don't involve higher spending than other schools, the cost of college tuition has perhaps been a barrier to broader expansion.

Now there is an opportunity to address that problem and realize Obama's vision. Legislation in the State Senate and Assembly would allow the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) to be extended to cover the tuition for college courses taken by all financially eligible students while still on their high school register. Since the overwhelming number of PTECH current and future students would be eligible, this would remove college tuition costs for students in PTECH schools and it would likely lead to significant increases in both the number of PTECH schools and the number of students in each PTECH school across the Empire State.

While the total amount of TAP funding would not increase, students would simply be able to access existing funds earlier in their academic careers with a clear pathway toward completion and employment. Assuming PTECH's record of success continues, more students will enroll and graduate from college and move into high-wage career opportunities where their lifetime earnings will be more than a million dollars more than those entering the workforce with only a high school diploma. This innovative use of TAP has been endorsed by The Business Council of New York State and its members as well as the Hispanic Federation, New York Urban League, The Education Trust, SUNY Student Assembly, and many other organizations representing students, businesses, and educational advocates.

New York State has strong career growth opportunities in multiple industries, including cybersecurity, biotech, semiconductors, advanced manufacturing, and green jobs to name but a few. By creating a seamless pathway from school to college to career, the state can have an economic engine to grow and sustain economic growth and New York students can achieve their dreams. Let's keep hope alive

This guest essay reflects the views of Stanley S. Litow, a Columbia University professor and member of the SUNY board of trustees.

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