Outgoing governor's early college expansion plans get financial boost

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Early college pathways for some Massachusetts high schoolers will no longer stop at grade 12 under a new initiative that will fund up to two more years of STEM-related college classes after high school.

Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month announced a $5 million funding infusion that will expand early college programming through five STEM Tech Career Academies. This will allow more students to earn an associate’s degree or industry-related credentials from community colleges — at no cost.

Early college is a program that allows students to simultaneously earn a high school diploma and accrue college credit during all four years of high school, but this new initiative seeks to extend that time frame to six years.

“We’re building off of existing [early college] pathways and sort of taking it to the next level,” said Jim Peyser, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education.

Rather than end free access to community college course material after grade 12, the academies would offer participating students two more years of science and technical college classes for free. The initiative involves more than a dozen industry partners, including Suffolk Construction, Walgreens, Mathworks, MIT and National Grid, according to the Baker administration.

The five participating community colleges include Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology, Northern Essex Community College, MassBay Community College, Bristol Community College, and Springfield Technical Community College. They will partner with area high schools to offer coursework in such fields as manufacturing, life sciences, health care and business.

According to Peyser, the $1 million apiece grants will help participants set up the academies, with an inaugural cohort of students expected to start in 2024. The Baker administration said in a press release it hopes to enroll up to 2,000 students in these academies over the next several years.

STEM field underrepresented by women and people of color

The need to train more students in STEM fields comes amid rapid job growth in the science and technology fields. According to 2018-2028 state job growth projections, STEM jobs are expected to grow by 7.2% versus 3% across all occupations.

“It's really a more intentional workforce pipeline program,” said Peyser, of the academies. “That ensures we're creating pathways for students that don't just give them opportunities, but also meet the needs of the employer community.”

The placement of the initial five STEM Tech Career Academies is intentional to reach underserved and underrepresented students, he added.

According to 2020 state employment data, only 27% of people working in STEM fields identify as non-white. Men outnumber women in this field (excluding healthcare) three to one. And according to an analysis from the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE), 27% of urban high schools in Massachusetts don’t offer any computer science courses.

“In a state that really wants to compete internationally in that field, we've got to do more,” said Ed Lambert, executive director of MBAE. “It's not just the talent pipeline issue. It's an equity issue for students.”

The concept for Massachusetts’ STEM career pathway academies is modeled after a program between the New York City schools and IBM known as P-Tech 9-14. Since that launch in 2011, more than 200 high schools in 12 states have offered similar opportunities.

Given the national success with other school and industry partnerships, Lambert says he’s hopeful the incoming Maura Healey-Kim Driscoll administration will find a way to continue funding the academies after the initial $5 million seed funding runs out.

“The great thing about this concept ... is that it really is non-partisan and non-controversial,” said Lambert. “So it is an equal balance of equity for students as well as ensuring the state’s economic health is strong going forward.”

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Carrie Jung Senior Reporter, Education
Carrie is a senior education reporter.



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