Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Providence Cristo Rey Students Graduate College-Ready and Career-Ready

Pat Roe, USA Funds
Pat Roe, Senior Program Director, National Engagement and Philanthropy, USA Funds

How many high school students do you know who can tell their friends: “I work at Eli Lilly?” or “I work for Eskenazi Health?” or “I work for Barnes and Thornburg?” Those familiar names associated with Central Indiana’s most prestigious companies are part of a long list of corporate work study partnerships that make Providence Cristo Rey High School students stand out. The Indianapolis school is the only one of its kind in the Hoosier state offering students year-round internship experiences as part of their academic curriculum. Students can even earn college credits for their work experiences.

USA Funds® supports the school’s work study  program as part of our investment to improve the quality of life in our hometown and in keeping with our focus on Completion With a PurposeSM, to promote student success in education and, ultimately, in careers.

The school is one of 30 in the Cristo Rey network, which currently spans across 17 states. The unique model began in Chicago in 1996, when the Jesuits, historically known as educational leaders, established a college preparatory school that would exclusively serve the low-income population of Chicago. To help pay for the cost of their education, students were asked to work in corporate offices — performing entry-level jobs — as part of their regular school schedule. Those on-the-job experiences have grown over the years and now include mentoring opportunities; supervisors work closely with the Cristo Rey students to help them build confidence in their abilities and professionalism in their work lives. In Indianapolis, Providence Cristo Rey pairs more than 200 students with jobs offered by 90 employers, including manufacturers, hospitals, and even law firms. Many companies — Eli Lilly among them — have increased their hiring substantially, further reinforcing school-corporate partnerships.

After completing four years at Providence Cristo Rey, a typical PCRHS student not only has earned a significant portion of his or her high school tuition, but also has logged nearly 1,000 hours of on-the-job training.

Cristo-Rey1Events held during the last week in July and the first week in August offer a snapshot of the program’s success. Incoming freshmen and transfer students attended a Corporate Work Study training program with workshops on such topics as study skills, time management, technology, professionalism in the workplace, and lunchtime etiquette. The day before school started for the 2015-2016 academic year, representatives from the partnering companies gathered for a job fair at the Indiana State House. Students wandered the rows of tables, engaging in conversation with heavy-hitters in the corporate world.

Let that visual breathe for a minute. Picture a 14-year-old shaking hands with a corporate professional. Now picture that the 14-year-old is most likely coming from a home struggling to meet financial challenges. And then picture that 14-year-old as one of Indiana’s 21st Century Scholars — the first member of his or her family who is on track to enroll in college.

What happened after the job fair? At the end of the first week of school, corporate executives gathered at Providence Cristo Rey for the school’s inaugural “draft day.” And just like the student-athletes seeking to join the NBA or NFL, Cristo Rey’s prospective “draft picks” anxiously waited for their names to be called. Students were matched with companies offering jobs that best fit their skill sets and provided the best chance for them to grow academically and professionally. Job assignments included information technology, customer service, document processing, special event planning, marketing, and process management. Providence Cristo Rey operates a fleet of buses to transport students to their respective job sites, as well as to school.

Does the model work?
One hundred percent of PCRHS graduates have received college acceptance letters. Students have successfully applied to 75 colleges and universities located in Indiana and around the country. Indianapolis Providence Cristo Rey students have proven their academic strength by receiving more than $5 million in scholarships and other financial assistance (not counting federal grants or 21st Century Scholar awards). And the college retention rate for these graduates is higher than the national average.

As further testimony of academic success, the Cristo Rey model has been recognized by the World Innovation for Education (WISE) Award for an Innovative Corporate Work Study Program. The Cristo Rey Network was nationally recognized by President Obama. Most recently, Teresa Lubbers, Indiana Commissioner for Higher Education, pointed to Providence Cristo Rey as an example of a program that achieves established goals. “We know that when students have meaningful career experiences throughout their education, they are more likely to find and prepare a career path that matches both their interest and aptitude,” said Lubbers. “Equally important, these work-based opportunities help ensure our students remain in Indiana and are equipped to meet the demands of our rapidly changing workforce and economy.”

Providence Cristo Rey’s first college graduating class — the Class of 2015 — achieved success and recognition by taking advantage of learning opportunities that are often out of reach for families of limited financial means. PCRHS alumni were selected for and excelled in junior executive institutes, entrepreneur competitions, and leadership camps. They received college recommendations from top corporate executives and got a taste of what it means to explore interesting careers in information technology, accounting and health care. And, following college graduation, many have already landed college-level jobs in technology, criminal justice, and retail management.

Providence Cristo Rey students are developing college-ready and career-ready capabilities — for example, learning how to collaborate and work effectively within a team as well as learning workplace sensibilities, including the importance of meeting or surpassing  productivity and accountability standards. Yes, the Providence Cristo Rey model emphasizes college completion that leads to successful employment. Yes, the Providence Cristo Rey model is about learning that works . . . for life.

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