America needs six-year high schools

In his State of the Union Address earlier this year, the President lauded the P-tech school, which is a collaborative effort between New York public schools and City University of New York and IBM, which donates time, expertise and mentors, but no money. Student at P-tech, many of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from high school, will come out with not only a high school diploma, but also an associate’s degree in a high-tech concentration like computer science or engineering. As the President put it, “We need to give every American student opportunities like this.”

In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that P-tech should be the future of high school nationwide. Hundreds of billions of dollars of government money, as well as countless man-hours of time and energy are spent trying to get kids to graduate from high school. But the truth is that a high school degree is, in today’s economy, largely worthless. Of the 14 million new jobs that will be created in this country over the next decade, nearly all will require at least a 2-year associates degree.

Having only a high school degree means a future of $15 bucks an hour or below. But only a quarter of students who enter community colleges actually graduate (the rates are only slightly better at 4 year schools). Meanwhile, many of them that do graduate have skills that aren’t suited to the jobs they’ll actually need. We’re graduating too many sports marketing experts, and not enough web programmers, and so on.