Testimony regarding earning an associate's degree in high school

Testimony of UFT Vice President for Career and Technical Education Sterling Roberson before the joint City Council Committees on Education and Higher Education

Good afternoon. My name is Sterling Roberson, and I am the United Federation of Teachers vice president for career and technical education. On behalf of the union’s 200,000 members, including academic and career and technical education (CTE) teachers and the school counselors responsible for guiding high schoolers through college and career planning and meeting graduation criteria, I would like to thank Chairs Inez Barron and Danny Dromm and the Committees on Higher Education and Education for holding this hearing.

The impact of the city’s programs that enable high school students to complete their graduation requirements, while simultaneously earning an associate’s degree, merits your review. Our members and students benefit from your critical oversight of the programs and academic resources our students need to succeed and soar.

What’s at stake?

What’s at stake for our students coming of age in the competitive global economy and what’s at stake for our union’s members committed to preparing them for the future? I can say without equivocation that we need a sharp shift away from the prior century’s approach to preparing students for post-secondary education and the workforce. It’s a new day for both academic and Career and Technical Education (CTE). Our students need to leave our high schools with academic, particularly literacy, and technology skills. For those in CTE pathways, there’s additional industry certification and the enhanced Regents diploma.

With the rising costs of higher education, our students benefit by obtaining college credit while in high school. The City Council’s scrutiny is particularly welcomed here; there are opportunities to explore how we can better leverage the course offerings for college credit in our public high schools, helping students save on college and tech school costs.

We don’t want our students repeating work in college, they’ve already mastered through CTE.  Many CTE programs have historically covered core course materials from the first two years of college for some industries. Of note, those seeking Licensed Practical Nurse and electronics degrees and others should not have to pay for credit hours covering the same coursework.

The UFT supports investing funding and resources in education models and programs that help students earn college degrees, while matriculating through high school. 

Earning an associate’s degree provides dividends

Of the projected 47 million job openings between 2009 and 2018, nearly two-thirds will require workers to have at least some post-secondary education – and experts say this percentage will only increase.
—College and Career Readiness: Update on the Regents Agenda, July 2015, New York State Education Department

As educators, our members dedicate their professional lives to the learning, development and growth of our students, so that can achieve life success. While our primary focus centers on students pre-K through grade 12, we work to inspire them to realize their passion and pursue their dreams throughout their lives. Part of preparing students for life success means positioning them for participation in the workforce, whether as employees or entrepreneurs. Realistically, this means they need to be competitive.

The New York State Board of Regents frames the competitiveness standard as college and career ready. Post-secondary education has a clear economic impact on our students and their ability to compete. According to the state education department’s 2015 review of the Regents’ agenda, post-secondary education has become increasingly valuable for getting hired and for earning potential over the long-term.

The findings from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce report, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupations, Lifetime Earnings,” make the case that investing in high school programs leading to an associate’s degree is a definite win for our students. During their lifetimes, workers who’ve completed an associate’s degree earn 25 percent more than workers with just a high school diploma and 44 percent more than high school dropouts.  Earning an associate’s degree pays dividends.

There is however, some counterintuitive learning from Georgetown’s analysis of lifetime earnings and education that bears mentioning. All occupations are not created equal; workers with less education can sometimes out-earn those with more educational credentials. This is particularly the case with the rise in occupations leaning heavily on the STEM skills (science, technology, engineering and math).  Moreover there are the troubling, but unsurprising earnings gaps by race, ethnicity and gender. Given the demographics of the city’s public schools, there should be a greater impetus to help more students take advantage of opportunities that position them well for future earnings.

The strength of the P-TECH model

Across America, only three in four students graduate high school on time, in four years. The numbers are significantly better, however, for students with a concentration in Career and Technical Education: nine in 10 graduate on time.
—The Albert Shanker Institute

As we’ve testified previously before the City Council, we applaud the Mayor’s and the Chancellor’s investment in and commitment to CTE programs. For instance, exciting new initiatives such as Skills USA, Team Robotics, MENTOR Moot Court, and Virtual Enterprise are showing promising outcomes for students from Brooklyn’s Maxwell CTE High School to the Bronx Design and Construction Academy.

We especially believe that the P-TECH model affords our students a formula that works. The strength of the P-TECH model rests in its four-pronged deliverables to the students:

  1. Extended time: Students attend for six years, from 9th grade through the second year of college;
  2. Industry credential:  a technical endorsement in a chosen field from the New York State Education Department;
  3. Academic credentials: They graduate with a Regents’ diploma and upon completion,  an associates’ degree from CUNY
  4. Work experience and employment prospects:  P-TECH students and students attending schools in the model are also given priority consideration for job openings with the school's industry partner(s).

I want to emphasize the importance of public/private partnerships that bring outside resources into our school buildings and expose students to new technologies and careers. Coming from a career and technical high school in Brooklyn, I can tell you that developing those types of partnerships and career pathways can have a profound impact on a school. This secondary education-to-higher education model depends on real support and genuine partnerships, not lip service.

Build on College Now and other readiness programs

After two years, four in five of these (CTE) students have either completed their course of study and earned a certificate, or remain enrolled in a program. 
—The Albert Shanker Institute

In addition to the programs enabling students to earn an associate’s degree in high school, the education department needs to build on College Now and other readiness programs. College Now, a collaborative program run by CUNY that has served over 20,000 students in 390 high schools, meets the criteria as an exemplary college partnership. The program is free for students, who enroll in basic skills courses and college credit classes either before school, after school or on weekends. More than 50 percent of participating students who graduated high school in 2010 and attended college went to CUNY. What’s more, research has shown that College Now participants accumulate more credits in their first year at CUNY and have better retention rates.

CUNY’s Office of Collaborative Precollege Programs also runs the Carpe Diem and the Teacher Leadership Quality Program. Carpe Diem assists students at some of our CTE high schools discover and pursue career paths in thriving industry sectors. The Teacher Leadership Quality Program helps educators upgrade their skills to state-of-the-art levels, while offering a real-world classroom experiences. The UFT recommends expanding these programs.

Whether it’s engaging students in classrooms in non-traditional ways or keeping our members abreast of leading edge technologies, or linking students directly to job opportunities, I cannot overstate the value that public/private partnerships bring to the table for our students and our members. Forming and nurturing industry, labor, higher education and government partnerships, adds authenticity and teeth to education policy. 

The UFT supports higher education and career preparedness

Our union’s commitment to higher education and career preparedness is well documented. Each year, the UFT awards $1 million in scholarships to academically excellent and financially eligible New York City public high school seniors through the Albert Shanker College Scholarship Fund. To receive a $5,000 scholarship from the fund, those selected must be accepted in a full-time, matriculated, degree-granting program at an accredited college or university.

The UFT has partnered with our state affiliate, New York State United Teachers, area colleges and technical schools for both citywide and borough-based college fairs over the years. Last March, our Academic High Schools division brought in more than 400 students from 20 high schools across the city for a unique college fair experience.  At this college fair, “Future in Focus,” in addition to exploring colleges and universities, students learned about jobs with strong union representation. Most had not previously learned about the higher earnings and benefits potential that jobs in those sectors could garner.

Inspiring lifelong learning

When our students earn their associate’s degree after completing a grade 9 through 14 model, that’s not the finish line we envision for them. We seek to facilitate a bridge to lifelong learning. We’re preparing them for a knowledge-based economy where they’re active participants with earning power. With each step, we hope to illustrate the benefits of forever sharpening skills and enhancing education and industry credentials so they remain relevant and empowered to chart their own destinies. Educators can’t do this work alone. We need the New York City Council and every stakeholder in our children’s future to expand opportunities for our high school students to get the education and credentials they need and deserve.

Thank you.

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