Describes the design and implementation of the STEM Early College Expansion Partnership in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which aims to create career pathways in advanced manufacturing and health care for underserved high school students.

“In [Bridgeport, an] old industrial seaport, education and workforce development leaders are trying something new to strengthen the regional economy and to improve the college and career prospects of young people. Bridgeport Public Schools (BPS) and its partners are aiming to align what high school students learn with both the academic demands of college and the workforce needs of local employers. They are developing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)- focused early college pathways as a way to better prepare future graduates for regional industries—advanced manufacturing and health care—in need of more highly skilled workers. About 40 students in grades 11 and 12 participated in pilot programs in the 2016-17 school year; they took college courses as part of their school day and earned college credit toward degrees and certificates with value in their local labor market….

[T]he pilots, which began in 2015, are part of [a]…long-term vision for Bridgeport to boost students’ mastery of STEM subjects by incorporating college-level courses into high school. The idea is to make learning more relevant to students by matching the curriculum with the knowledge and skills they would need on the job. The initiative, known as the STEM Early College Expansion Partnership, also promotes college and career success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds with a history of success in neither. The development of these pathways is complemented by professional development for teachers and principals in BPS, provided by experts since 2014 through the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST) at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and by [technical assistance] coaches.

This brief describes the implementation of these efforts, their potential significance, and the important work and challenges that key partners—BPS, Housatonic Community College, The WorkPlace (the region’s workforce development board), and St. Vincent’s College and Hospital—tackle as they try to create effective pathways to college and careers, and align the community’s education systems with industry needs” (p.1-2).

Full publication title: Building Early College Pathways to STEM Careers: Bridgeport Tries a New Tack to Meet Employer Demand for Skilled Workers

(Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)

Major Findings & Recommendations

The brief identifies four emerging lessons and challenges: “Small costs can be significant barriers to students District staff did not anticipate numerous small—yet significant—barriers that students would face that would require extra financial or staff support. For example, the advanced manufacturing center requires steel-toe work boots, a cost that students’ families could not afford. So the district paid for the boots….Students also needed a way to return home after their college classes ended each day. The district not only bought bus passes for students, but staff also accompanied some students who were nervous about taking a public bus for the first time. Attrition highlights the need for clear expectations and strong support systems Attrition was a challenge for the first year of the advanced manufacturing pathway. Some students confronted major life issues that ultimately caused them to drop out of the pathway or school altogether. These included deaths in the family, family drug use, and chronic absenteeism” (p.12). “Gender diversity in manufacturing is a continuing goal Another challenge is that the advanced manufacturing field is dominated by men and this is reflected in challenges with recruiting female students into the pathway. There were only three young women enrolled…. The district is asking faculty to identify and recruit female students to make their participation in the pathway more proportionate to their share of the population. They are also creating multiple sections of an introductory advanced manufacturing course for ninth graders that may spur the interest of younger female students in continuing in the pathway as upperclassmen, or at least give them more of a basis for understanding whether or not they would be interested. Covering tuition and other costs is an ongoing challenge Just as it is at other early colleges around the country, covering the cost of college courses and textbooks for high school students is a challenge, but it is particularly difficult in Connecticut. There is no state funding for dual enrollment, and there is shrinking state financial support for community colleges—which are also bracing themselves for possible cuts to and consolidation of administrative staffing” (p.13). (Abstractor: Author and Website Staff)