Oakland high school students earn college degree with tech program

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A public-private partnership in the East Bay is offering some inner-city students the opportunity to get a college certificate -- for free. And they can do it all while they're in high school, even if it takes them six years to graduate.

It's an apparent win-win for everybody including the tech industry and 100 kids at Skyline High School who are taking classes at a new science and technology academy while getting college credit for it. After that, they can swing for the fences. And swinging for the fences is something that their keynote speaker on Friday knows a little about.

What does an Oakland A's Hall of Fame slugger who retired before today's Skyline students were born have to offer them? How about "perspective."

"Your athletic skill will wane, they'll go away. Good looks will go away. But you will always have your education," baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson.

Officials used a little of Jackson's star power to officially open the Skyline High School Computer Science and Technology Academy. "The focus on tech is because there's such a significant lack of any kind of minority population in technology," Jackson explained.

It's true that African Americans and Latinos make up less than five percent of employees at the major tech companies. This initiative hopes to help change that. It's a joint venture between Silicon Valley software giant SAP, the Oakland Unified School District, and Berkeley City College.

The goal is to get more kids of color involved in the tech industry. That's not new, but this is -- students in the academy will be allowed to take courses that offer credits both at Skyline and at Berkeley City College -- at no cost. And after they graduate, they have two years to complete their associate's degree -- for free.

"We don't know how many kids will actually get all the way through an associate's degree while they're here. We're hoping they can get at least, let's say a couple semester's worth of college credits before they leave so they'll have a real edge," said Director Mark Frey.

"They also become our employee base later so it's a virtuous cycle for all," said SAP Vice President Brian Reaves.

But the students that spoke with ABC7 News have even bigger dreams. "I want to create something. I want people to know my name, know what I did," said freshman Zoe Salahud-Din.

"I just want to make sure that America continues to lead the world in computer technology science," said senior Jedediah Burton.

Everybody involved expects to get back more than they give, especially the tech industry, which believes diversity creates greater profits and prosperity.
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