Central High School will soon be one of seven Colorado high schools offering the chance at a free associate degree for students who want to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering or math.
Starting in the fall, Central High School students enrolled in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program will be able to work toward a free associate degree in mechanical engineering technology, machining or welding at Western Colorado Community College.
The four-to-six year program is funded by a state grant program, Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools, which pays for students to obtain a two-year degree.
Bringing P-TECH to Mesa County is a joint effort of School District 51, Colorado Mesa University, the Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association and local businesses.
The program will give Central students more options for the future, said teacher and STEM coordinator Phil Johnston.
"Not every student is the same, has the same interest or comes from the same mold, so the more opportunities you can give them to be successful the more likely it is they will be successful," Johnston said.
When the program is fully implemented, there will be 50 students per grade level working toward their associate degree. The program's rollout in the fall will include a first class of freshmen as well as some sophomores and juniors joining the program.
Central High School was the best starting point for P-TECH because it already has a STEM program in place, said Director of College and Career Readiness Cheri Taylor.
"It's an important collaboration to provide for our students and our community," Taylor said. "We do plan to expand to other high schools and other fields, like health care. Those are fields that our community needs and our students are interested in."
The program will also include interaction with local businesses through internships, mentoring and field trips for students. GPD Global, Jabil Lewis Engineering, Reynolds Polymer, Schmueser and Associates and Wren Industries have signed on to help with P-TECH.
Reynolds Polymer Vice President of Human Resources Jessica Smith said joining the program was "an easy yes."
"I struggle to find skilled workers every day, and anything we can to do get our people to stay, to get our kids to stay and grow, we will," she said.
At the program presentation Tuesday, CMU President Tim Foster told a group of students that the long-standing partnership between District 51, WCCC and the university made the program possible.
"We can create so many more things together than we can separately, and it's really all about how do we give students like you opportunities you would not have in any other community in Colorado and in the country," Foster said.