Early College High Schools: Creating Opportunities for the Future of Work in North America


We have made great strides in fostering quality education and preparing an inclusive future workforce, but efforts have not universally kept pace with accelerating innovation and the skills needed to prepare youth for the current or future world of work.

While governments may be responsible for creating the right conditions, corporations are in a unique position to contribute — especially companies like SAP. On the heels of graduation season in North America and in honor of the United Nations World Youth Skills Day, it’s a natural time to reflect on the progress and current state of education in the U.S. and Canada, as well as the role that SAP plays.

A long-term SAP Corporate Social Responsibility (SAP CSR) investment to support building digital skills for youth in North America includes our Early College High School program. The founding high school began in New York and is now running in four cities across North America, serving more than 1,000 students. The program model blends typical high school curriculum with college-level coursework and workplace experience to help students develop strong technical, design, and communication skills.

SAP’s Early College High Schools: Bringing Technology to Students

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SAP’s Early College High Schools: Bringing Technology to Students

Time for Reflection

Initially, the goal was to create four programs — ideally as similar as possible — that created quality education opportunities for future tech leaders. Within a year, it was clear that each program needed customization based on student and community needs in order to be successful. Despite unique school needs, our initial goals remained constant: build a formal bridge between high school, college, and industry through dual enrollment, industry mentoring, and real workplace experiences.

Each program also centers around strong partnerships with administration, as well as teachers and educators. I am proud, as a leader of the SAP North America CSR team, to partner alongside these incredible educators. They are creating opportunities for their students to build the skills needed for today’s working world. They are shaping the future of education in North America.

Closer Look at Our Schools

For the first time in our program’s history, we will graduate students from more than one high school, including from C-Town Tech in Boston. Each of the graduates will graduate with 15 college credits. Each graduate has plans to attend college in the fall. Legacy classes are often small, in this case eight students, so we look to the future as a measure of success. With scale, we will realize major impact.

This pathway is a catalyst for change within Charlestown High School. Headmaster Will Thomas shared, “We didn’t stop at creating just a tech program. The C-Town Tech program allowed us to use this template to start an entrepreneurial program called C-Town Business. It’s similar to C-Town Tech, but with a focus on business. Next year, we will be piloting a third pathway, called C-Town Allied Health, to focus on the health careers. Before the pathway programs we had about five students, on average, participating in a dual-enrollment program at Charlestown High School. Next year, 2019-2020, we will have over 120 students taking part in some form of dual enrollment. You can imagine what a shift in our school culture this has created.”

BTECH High School, in Queens, New York, graduated its second class — with a 93 percent graduation rate, notably higher than the NYC average of 75.9 percent. Of those, 95 percent are continuing on with their education. Though originally a six-year program, 22 students have received their Associate of Arts degree within 5 years from Queensborough Community College (QCC). Another 14 are on track to graduate with their Associate of Arts degree next year. Of our legacy class, we expect the majority to receive a college degree. Moving forward, 40 to 45 students will graduate with their Associate of Arts degree in Computer Information Systems each year at QCC and roughly half of the students graduating with this are BTECH alums.

From our Oakland, Calif., and Vancouver, B.C., programs, we have welcomed several students into our SAP Tech Summer program for internships. Students over the age of 16 are fully integrated into teams and work 30+ hours a week for the summer. I asked these students to share some reflections on their journey with our broader SAP community. While preparing the future of work, we can all learn a lot from them as well. I hope you enjoy the insights from this talented group of leaders:

Q: What advice would you give to incoming freshman?
Jennifer: “Most people think that freshman year isn’t that important, so they use that as an excuse to goof around. If you want to go to college, it is extremely important to get involved in the community.”
Mandy: “My advice for the incoming freshman would be have passion on the courses even if you don’t like the subjects or classes, try to find small things that make you happy — it could be as small as maybe the math class has an air conditioner (not all classrooms have AC or heater) or this is the last period and I can go home after this. Adjust your mindset, a happy heart will make you succeed.”

Q: What type of career excites you?
Leo: “I hope to be a part of a team that is working on experimental technology, especially something that back when I was a kid was thought to be only fiction.”
Astrid: “A career that excites me would be software developing. I have been interested in developing things with code for a very long time. I still have a lot to learn, but it is something that I am very interested in.”

Q: Do you have a motto or phrase that inspires you or one that you’ve heard that you like?
Valentina: “’All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them,’ from Walt Disney.”
Melody: “Just because someone is ahead doesn’t mean they’ll finish first.”
Yanitiza: “I recently started saying ‘I don’t know, but…,’ instead of just saying ‘I don’t know,’ every time I’m asked a question and am stuck on how to respond. As a high school student, I’m bombarded with questions that at times I don’t have a proper answer to and using this phrase — even though it’s simple — allows me to show/tell others that even though I may not have a direct answer yet, I’m working toward something and I’m giving them an insight of my process so far.”

The Early College High School program from SAP is part of Learning for Life, a global initiative that demonstrates the company’s commitment to building an inclusive, skilled workforce for today’s digital world. With an extensive portfolio and digital literacy programs, Learning for Life creates opportunities by helping ensure that everyone, regardless of age or background, has the relevant skills to thrive, innovate, and secure meaningful work. In 2018, SAP digital skills programs reached more than 2.8 million youth across 93 countries.

Katie Morgan is head of Corporate Social Responsibility for North America at SAP.