In California, High Schools Are Partnering With Businesses, Community Colleges to Get Students College- and Career-Ready
The city slogan of Woodland, California, is "The Food Front," but high school students in this rural area may not fully comprehend the extent of the agricultural industry that surrounds them.
According to John Purcell, the head of vegetables research and development at Bayer Crop Science, a prominent agriculture science company in the region, the students lack an understanding of modern food production and agriculture. However, Purcell sees this as an exciting opportunity.
Bayer is planning to form a partnership with Woodland Community College and a nearby high school to implement a program known as P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School). This program, which has already been implemented in over 100 schools domestically and internationally, aims to provide high school students with college-level courses and a smooth transition into community college. The ultimate goal is for students to earn an associate’s degree in a field that has economic demand, while gaining practical job-training experiences throughout the process.
The P-TECH model originated in Brooklyn, New York, eight years ago through a collaboration between IBM and local educational institutions. IBM has since expanded the program to more than 100 schools worldwide, with hundreds of businesses serving as partners by offering mentorship, paid internships, and industry-relevant curricula. Early indications suggest that students in the P-TECH program are more prepared for college compared to their peers in other New York City schools.
In Woodland, the focus of the program will be on agricultural disciplines such as animal science, plant science, mechanics, and environmental science. There is also a demand for specialists in drone technology and graduates in information technology to aid in tasks such as field mapping, pesticide application, and irrigation. The partnership between Pioneer High School and Woodland Community College is advantageous due to their close proximity, providing students with long-standing exposure to the city.
A 2014 report by the Milken Institute indicates that California’s farming communities require skilled workers due to the increasing technological sophistication and complexity of agriculture. A forecast by Centers of Excellence, a labor market research provider for California’s community colleges, predicts approximately 5,300 new job openings related to agriculture in the Greater Sacramento region (where Woodland is located) between 2015 and 2020. Many of these positions, such as plant scientists, industrial machinery mechanics, and market research analysts, offer well-paying salaries and require postsecondary education.
National forecasts for the growth of agricultural workers are varied. The number of farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers is expected to remain relatively stagnant at around 1.02 million workers by 2026. However, positions for agricultural and food science workers are projected to increase by 7 percent, reaching 46,000 workers by 2026. Employment opportunities for agricultural and food science technicians are also expected to rise by 6 percent, reaching 29,200 from 27,500.
California’s model of free college courses differs from its Brooklyn counterpart in that it only offers these courses while students are still in high school. Once they graduate, they will have to pay the standard community college tuition fees. The goal of this initiative is to instill a college-going culture in communities with low degree attainment and establish stronger connections between businesses, high schools, and community colleges to ensure students graduate with employable skills.
The pilot programs in California will start with small enrollments, enrolling several dozen or fewer students each year. Woodland plans to add 30 students per year for the five-year duration of the pilot, while West Contra Costa expects 60-80 students to enter their manufacturing and information technology programs annually. These programs will heavily recruit students from households where no adults have completed college.
San Diego Miramar College intends to enroll approximately 100 students in its biotechnology program. The region it serves has a high demand for biotechnology jobs that require college awards but not a four-year degree.
During the planning phase in Woodland, many program details are yet to be finalized. This includes determining the number of college units students will take in high school, the selection process for the program, and the specific college classes they will be enrolled in.
Woodland College aspires to have at least 70 percent of its students earn an associate’s degree after six years in the program. Students will receive college tutoring for their college-level courses, and the college will track their success in terms of transfers, completion, and employment.
Improving the graduation rates of students in community colleges has been a key focus in California. Currently, less than half of the students earn a certificate or transfer to a four-year university within six years.
West Hills Community College District aims for its students to earn 30 college units by the time they finish high school, which is half the requirement for an associate’s degree. This could significantly increase the likelihood of students obtaining their degrees or transferring on time. The curriculum for students in this program includes various agriculture-focused courses, such as tractor operations, college success, world history, computer applications for agriculture, agricultural economics, plant science, elementary Spanish, and art appreciation.
Woodland College primarily serves counties near Sacramento that are centered around the agriculture and viniculture industries. Expanding degree offerings and providing transferable courses in these sectors is one of the college’s main objectives. The partnership between Bayer and Woodland College aims to address the labor shortage in the food and agriculture industry and provide a talent pipeline for an evolving field.
While California has already implemented programs to expose high school students to college courses, such as dual-enrollment and early college programs, the STEM Pathways Grant is unique due to its focus on job preparation. Business partners are heavily involved in delivering the curriculum over the four years, and the college is actively seeking more partnerships to expand the program’s scope.
“Those who are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree or any other advanced degree would have a natural pathway to UC Davis,” stated White.
Similar to the other pilot programs in California, the collaboration between Woodland and Bayer will offer internships and other forms of job training to students in the program. These students will also have the opportunity to be prioritized for job interviews.
This investment is a logical choice for the company.
“We are constantly seeking potential employees, and what’s great is that when students go through programs like this, they gain an advantage because they have already had exposure to companies like ours or others in the field,” explained Purcell.
Please note that coverage of the skills gap, the challenges and opportunities in better educating our future workforce, and the ongoing efforts to enhance local employment pipelines is partially supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
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