AuthorAbdul-Alim, Jamaal
PositionPathways in Technology Early College High School


Illias Gomez thought he was doing pretty well for himself when he got a part-time job as a host at a local Olive Garden during his sophomore year in high school.

"It was my first job, so I thought I was making a lot of money," Gomez recalls of the position, which paid $10 an hour.

His perspective changed when--in the summer of 2021, before his senior year--he landed an internship at IBM making $21.50 an hour, working on media and entertainment projects for the company. The higher wage not only more than doubled his salary, but also proved life-changing for Illias and his family, who reside in Mesquite, Texas, just outside of Dallas.

For starters, the job came with a $750 stipend for home office equipment. Gomez used the stipend and his salary to buy an L-shaped desk and two computers to create a home studio. The studio serves as a sanctuary where he can pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a video game developer--a dream that goes back to when he was a four-year-old playing God of War on his uncle's PlayStation 2.

He also saved up to buy himself a car--a blue 2004 Honda Civic EX. He bought his stepdad a heat press machine for their fledgling custom T-shirt business. And he bought his mom a manicure nail table so instead of shelling out money to local nail salons, she could do her nails at home, as well as those of her family and friends.

At 32 hours a week, the IBM internship essentially made Ulias a breadwinner for his family overnight, even if only for that summer.

"I never expected this early in my life to be paid that much," Gomez told me during an interview in a second-floor conference room at Emmett J. Conrad High School, located in the city's Vickery Meadow neighborhood, a densely populated area that is home to many immigrants and refugees from around the world.

"That money really helped out," he said. When his mother, a building code officer for the city of Dallas, heard how much his salary was, "she was surprised, because she was like, 'You're close to making as much as I'm making.' "

Gomez landed his lucrative IBM internship through a program called P-TECH, which stands for Pathways in Technology Early College High School. Not only does P-TECH connect high school students to employment opportunities in promising fields, it also offers them the chance to take college courses while in high school and to earn credits toward both--a concept called dual enrollment. For Gomez it meant that, when he graduated this past May from Conrad High at the age of 18, he also had an associate's degree in applied science in interactive simulation and game technology. He didn't have to pay a dime. His mother was so inspired by Illias's example that she decided to go back to college herself.

Dual enrollment is one of the most encouraging trends in higher education. Such programs have been shown to boost college attendance and reduce the time it takes for students to earn postsecondary degrees and vocational certificates. One of the abiding problems, however, is that students of color and from lower-income families tend to be underrepresented. Historically, dual enrollees have typically been whiter, wealthier, and already high achievers academically.

What makes P-TECH different is that, as a nonselective program, it serves lower-income minority students, many of whom weren't doing well in school--like Gomez. The program does that in various innovative ways: by giving the high school students a new identity as college students capable of doing college work, by providing them with jobs in a field they're passionate about, and by connecting them with businesses in search of an educated workforce.

The success P-TECH has shown with students like Gomez has helped it spread rapidly--from a single school in Brooklyn, where it was launched in 2011, to 210 today throughout the United States (and many others in several countries, from Morocco to Singapore to Australia).

But that growth pales in comparison to the potential interest. There are more than 21,000 public high schools in the United States, meaning that only about 1 percent of America's high schools have the program. Even in Dallas, where 18 high schools participate in P-TECH, demand far outstrips supply. At Conrad High, for instance, there were twice as many applicants as there are spots at...

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