Bridging Educational Gaps, Building Brighter Futures: Paid High School Work-Study Programs

Manhattan Institute

Students who have dropped out of high school—and those at risk of doing so—are at greater risk of lifelong poverty, involvement with the criminal justice system, dependence on government welfare programs, and even premature death. Over the past decade, 14%–18% of U.S. high school students have failed to graduate on time. In the last few years, however, the problems at high schools have compounded, as pandemic-era school closures led to dramatic drops in math and reading proficiency, as well as a spike in chronic absenteeism. In the 2021–22 school year, an alarming 56% of American high schools experienced “extreme” chronic absenteeism, defined as at least 30% of students out of school for 18 days (10%) or more of a school year.

In the wake of the pandemic, there is thus a pressing need—as well as an opportunity—to find new, innovative approaches for recovering dropouts and retaining those at risk of dropping out.....

.....P-TECH is an innovative public school CTE program that blends high school, community college, and workplace skills into a single curriculum for students in grades 9–14.

The model integrates high school and college coursework. This enables students to begin college courses as soon as they demonstrate readiness, regardless of their nominal grade level. Though the program formally ends upon completion of the associate degree, that is just one of several postsecondary options made available through the program. Administrators are not incentivized to keep students in the program until they obtain the associate degree; instead, students are given space to learn valuable skills and pursue career opportunities with a high school diploma.....

.....The nonprofit education research organization MDRC released its evaluation of New York City’s P-TECH program in October 2023. This research found the following facts about students participating in P-TECH:

  • 38% were more likely than the comparison group to have had an internship during four years of high school;
  • 46% had dual-enrolled in at least one college-level course, which was 26 percentage points higher than the comparison group;
  • 5% were more likely to have completed an associate degree seven years after entering high school, an effect more pronounced for male students.

Although cost per pupil for students in P-TECH was 17% higher than for other high schools in the community, the study concluded that “P-TECH 9–14 schools can generally be operated with resources that are not significantly different than other high schools in the community.”

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