Baltimore Business Journal Commentary: STEM education key to city’s future

This commentary originally appeared in the June 23 Baltimore Business Journal

Ronald Daniels
Stanley Litow, Contributors

Throughout the past year, Baltimore has been engaged in an earnest conversation about how to change the city’s trajectory, bending it in a way that provides opportunities for all of its residents and bolsters economic growth.

Equipping our next generation with the academic and real-world skills needed to prepare them for the emerging economy remains one of the most important economic challenges of our time. And, in fact, there is ample evidence of a widening gap between job opportunities and skilled workers in the city. For example, the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Associated Black Charities recently identified a growing need for workers who can fill the more than 120,000 middle-skilled STEM jobs in Baltimore. Notably, these are jobs that, on average, pay more than a living wage. Johns Hopkins alone has more than 33,000 employees in Baltimore, and a significant percentage of its jobs require skills credentials that can make it hard to find qualified candidates.

Five years ago, IBM designed an innovative solution called P-TECH to address the skills gap. Created through robust public-private partnerships, P-TECH offers youth the opportunity to spend six years earning both a high school diploma and a no-cost associate degree, along with the skills needed to step straight into a competitive STEM job or pursue additional higher education.

Employers provide mentors, structured workplace visits, paid internships, and first-in-line job opportunities. The program is open to all students — participants are not cherry-picked by entrance exams or grades. P-TECH is seeing strong student achievement and early graduation rates in three states.

From the first year P-TECH opened, we have talked about adopting the model in Baltimore. And thanks to Gov. Larry Hogan, and the leadership of city and state officials, Maryland’s first P-TECH schools will open in Baltimore this fall. Through a determined collaboration among the Baltimore City Public Schools, Baltimore City Community College, IBM, Johns Hopkins University and Health System, Kaiser Permanente, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, students at two P-TECH sites, located within Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Carver Vocational Technical High School, will have the opportunity to participate in P-TECH. Baltimore will join P-TECH’s rapid expansion this year to 60 schools across six states.

Our interest is grounded in a desire to provide Baltimore youth with clear pathways from high school to college to career right here in Baltimore. Given the opportunity and support, we know they can and will succeed. P-TECH is about meeting Baltimore’s needs, helping the city’s talented students achieve strong academic preparation in the fast-growing tech and health care sectors along with the skills and knowledge that employers value.

P-TECH is not a short-term investment by any of our collaborators. Rather, it reflects an enduring belief that if we come together to create more opportunities for our youth, their talent will lead them into fulfilling careers in growing industries, and help bolster the future of Baltimore. We believe this represents another step toward bending the trajectory, and we invite businesses around the city, state and nation to help create more of these opportunities for our youth. It is a solution whose time has come.

Ronald J. Daniels is president of Johns Hopkins University. Stanley S. Litow is president of the IBM International Foundation and a former deputy chancellor of the New York City Public Schools.