PTECH connects education to industry

Idaho high school students now have an all-expenses paid pathway to a high-demand career. A new nonprofit program called PTECH is knocking down barriers to a post-secondary education.

“We’re hooking up services to kids so they can get a well-paying Idaho job,” said Alan Millar, executive director of PTECH and former charter school principal.

The plan is that PTECH will be a bridge from high school through college to a career. It’s all free to those who sign up and stay on track.

High school students who enroll for the three-year program receive:

  • A laptop.
  • Access to online college courses.
  • Coaching.
  • Tuition to community college.
  • An internship.
  • Connections with potential employers.

The program launched this semester with 60 students. Another 90 are expected to start in January. Six schools are participating, and two more schools are expected to join. Participants include Clark Fork and Kellogg in North Idaho and Kuna in the Treasure Valley.

Melba High’s Jake Woodruff signed up. He has three older siblings in college and he didn’t have a computer until PTECH provided him with one. He’s already taking online college courses.

“The huge bonus is all his dual credits are paid for,” said his mother, Kim. “I’m excited to see how it all works out.”

When she first heard of PTECH she didn’t think Jake was the right fit. She expected him to take a more traditional path to a four-year degree. Jake thought differently. He likes the idea that he could get an associate’s degree before he goes on a church mission.

“I’m interested in technology because I think that profession will continue to grow,” Jake said.

High school students who enroll must decide to pursue a career in health care, technology or aerospace.

Career tracks were defined by those industries’ needs. Millar says he has talked to more than 30 Idaho industries and is tailoring career paths to meet job-force needs. Some companies have signed on as supporters and others are partners, including Empire Airlines and Ednetics. Partners have promised to offer internships and eventually jobs to PTECH graduates.

“You have to aggregate the students and the jobs to solve the work force problem,” Millar said. “We have multiple career paths that lead to multiple jobs at the other end.”

The path starts at high school where teachers have been recruited (and paid) to be student facilitators. The participants also have a remote coach via Inside Track, a program offered free to students and continues through college.

“There are so many pluses but I like the idea of Jake having an adviser,” Kim said.

The facilitator and coach help students register for online classes or college, and help them with coursework.

“There is a really high demand for our program right now when we initially thought we’d need to recruit kids,” said Millar. “It shows how desperate parents are to get their kids through college.”

PTECH has five full-time employees, based in Sandpoint. The original idea was to build a school and have all students under one roof. The team instead decided to run the program remotely, so more students would have access.

“We’re just a little network,” said Millar.

The biggest roadblock has been growing pains felt by Idaho community colleges worried that PTECH students might overwhelm or strain services. So far, only North Idaho College has agreed to facilitate PTECH. Millar said he is in conversations with the College of Southern Idaho and College of Western Idaho.

At Twin Falls-based CSI, PTECH isn’t the only factor in an enrollment boost. As a result of other programs — such as the state-funded Fast Forward initiative and Idaho Digital Learning Academy classes — one of every six CSI students is still in high school. That adds up to about 2,000 students.

“We are committed to working with our K-12 partners,” said John Miller, an instructional dean at CSI. “There are a lot of things going on behind the scenes. We’re seeing significant increases.”

PTECH is funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Millar plans to seek other funding, including state dollars dedicated to getting kids to college.

“We will seamlessly enroll kids in college at no cost to them, provide hands-on-learning courses with an industry internship and navigate the challenges of college with a coach,” Millar said. “We are giving them direction and a pathway to a job. Our goal is to have 1,200 by 2018 get through our program.”

Disclaimer: P-TECH and Idaho Education News are both funded by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over one million pageviews in 2019. Jennifer has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

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