JOHNSTOWN - A $2.7 million state grant will help local students prepare for careers and earn their associate degrees tuition-free from Fulton-Montgomery Community College.
HFM BOCES, its component school districts, Fulton-Montgomery Community College and 16 regional businesses were awarded the grant, which will help prepare high school students for high-skill jobs including health care, manufacturing, engineering and technology, according to a news release.
Through this grant, students will be able earn an associate degree at no cost to their families and will be first in line for jobs with participating companies when they graduate.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced the news Thursday, saying in a release the "groundbreaking program will give students across the state the opportunity to earn a college degree without taking on significant debt from student loans."
HFM BOCES District Superintendent Patrick Michel said the local grant application asked for $2.7 million for the region over a period of seven years. He also said he has been told the grant will continue past the seven years and the district would have to reapply at that point, but he ensured this program is sustainable for several reasons.
He said this grant gives the district the potential to receive even more grants because it now will have this program in place.
Also, once the program is established, the tuition for BOCES will be aid-eligible, so if the districts ever have to go back to paying tuition, they will be in good shape, Michel said.
Michel said the tuition-free associate degree makes up the bulk of the cost for this new program but the cost of college at the high school is "considerably lower" than tuition at the college. And, Michel said, the bulk of the students will be from low-income families, which will generate more federal and state aid as well.
"This is exciting news for our students and our communities. The grant will allow us to redesign public education in our region, providing students access to high-paying jobs and an associate's degree from FMCC," Michel said. "I'm so proud of the collaborative effort of our partnership, and look forward to the work ahead."
According to the news release, the New York State Pathways in Technology Early College High School partnerships will serve nearly 6,000 students. New York is the first state to take the "P-TECH" program statewide.
Michel said the programs would be project-based and prepare students to begin college-level work by the time they reach 10th grade. He said students could begin preparing to enter the program in seventh grade, but the actual program begins during the freshman year of high school.
Michel said if a student is successful and works hard, both the college degree and high school diploma can be obtained in the same four years. Some students might take longer than four years to finish the college portion, however.
He said every component school district will be eligible to participate in the program, although districts not participating in the grant will have to pay tuition for their students. Michel said almost all the HFM?BOCES?component districts participated in the grant, although he declined to name the ones that didn't.
Pending negotiation and approval of each applicant's budget, the news release said, the winners will spend the 2013-14 school year recruiting students, building partnerships and training teachers and principals, and they will enroll the first class of students in September 2014.
The Gloversville Enlarged School District was named the lead fiscal agency for the grant.
"We're going to take students who in the past might not have been successful in high school, and we're going to put them on a pathway to academic and career success," Superintendent Michael Vanyo said. "This is another important step toward ensuring each and every Gloversville [student] is prepared for life after high school."
"P-TECH will allow us to reach a different population of students that may not have been served by existing programs. We are targeting growing industries like health care to ensure that a Gloversville education is a pathway to career success for every student," Vanyo added.
Students who are chosen to participate in the P-TECH program will attend classes and job training outside their local campuses, but they will still be associated with their home districts. These students will still be eligible to participate in school activities and sports, a news release said.
Michel said he thinks this is a first step to area schools' working together to enhance their science, technology, engineering and math programs through a regional approach.
Michel also said he always believed the area should invest in a combined technology program and facility like the TEC-SMART facility in Malta. This program could potentially lead to such a development.
"That is exactly where [the program] is going," Michel said.
With technology enterprises such as Albany NanoTech and the expansion of GlobalFoundries in Malta, the students of this area will have the opportunity to find high-paying jobs near home and will not need to leave the area or the state as they might have in the past.
Michel said several businesses from the community already have partnered with the district's program, including technology trades like GlobalFoundries, Cisco and smaller local businesses such as Townsend Leather, Nathan Littauer Hospital, Gloversville Sewing Center and St. Mary's Healthcare.
He said these partnerships are going to help in the development of curriculum. The curriculum will fulfill the Common Core requirements, but it also will include lessons that prepare the students to be career- and college-ready, Michel said.
He said the partnerships will help in the creation of lab environments for students.
Michel said the plan is to lease a portion of the former Jansen Avenue Elementary School in Johnstown to serve as the primary facility for the P-TECH program. However, he said, students also will use the facilities at the college, including FM's clean room and nanotech lab.
He said the goal is to bring 50 freshmen into the program during the 2014-15 school year so the space needed can steadily be provided rather than needing a larger facility immediately.
He said the districts will target students from low-income families and families with no previous college education, although all students can be considered for enrollment.
"A great problem to have would be having more than 50 students wanting to be in this program," Michel said. "We would have to figure out what to do with them but it would be a good problem to have."
He said a committee will be set up this year to help choose the first 50 children to enter the program.
"What this shows is public education in this region is willing to change to meet the needs of employers, meet the needs of students and help grow the economy of this area," Michel said. "It is the labor force that matters. Businesses are not going to come here if they don't feel they have an educated labor force that will work in their facilities."
Levi Pascher can be reached at email@example.com.