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$29.5M Bloomberg Grant Funds Innovative Partnership for Early College High School

A partnership between Duke Health, Durham Technical Community College and Durham Public Schools has been awarded a transformative $29.5 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to establish an early college for high school students interested in pursuing health care careers upon graduation. 


The grant is one of 10 awarded nationally through Bloomberg Philanthropies’ “Student-centered, Market-driven Healthcare Education Initiative.” The initiative’s goal is to address critical health care workforce needs while preparing young adults for successful careers in the field. 


“For too long, our education system has failed to prepare students for good jobs in high-growth industries,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP and 108th mayor of New York City. “By combining classroom learning with hands-on experience, these specialized health-care high schools will prepare students for careers with opportunities for growth and advancement. America needs more health care workers, and we need a stronger, larger middle-class – and this is a way to help accomplish both goals."

The Durham partnership will provide the preparation needed for careers in nursing, allied health, surgical tech, and clinical research. The key elements of the partnership are:


• Interested Durham Public Schools (DPS) students in grades 9-12 will attend the early college high school and simultaneously earn both a high school diploma and an associate degree or workforce credential for aligned health care occupations. 
• The Middle College at Durham Tech will expand to an early college high school and will be housed at Durham Tech (DTCC) in a newly renovated space, with the school opening in the fall of 2025.  
• Upon graduation, students will have an immediate pathway to jobs or research roles at Duke Health.


“This partnership is about much more than an innovative educational approach,” said J.B. Buxton, president of Durham Tech. “It’s about creating a high-quality pathway to some of the most important jobs in our community. It’s about making sure our health care workforce looks like the patients it serves. It’s about improving the quality of patient care and the health outcomes for all. It’s about the role of education and health in improving people’s lives.”


The program is expected to open in the fall of 2025 with an initial class of 100 ninth graders, then enroll additional classes of 100 students for each of the next three years. 


The Bloomberg Philanthropies grant will allow Durham Public Schools to further increase Durham’s talent pipeline in the health care sector. The district currently offers medical career-focused courses and experiences through its City of Medicine Academy.


“This innovative partnership marks a significant milestone in our collective commitment to provide students with unparalleled opportunities and prepare them for successful futures in the dynamic health sciences sector,” said Pascal Mubenga, superintendent of Durham Public Schools. “This will also help us keep qualified talent right here in Durham to strengthen our network of care.”


Students will graduate with one or more credentials required to fill high-demand positions, including certified nursing assistant, emergency medical technician, phlebotomist, and central sterile processing technician. 


Duke University Health System (DUHS), which comprises Duke’s hospitals, clinics, and other patient care services, is expected to hire at least 60 students directly after graduation from the early college high school, fulfilling a critical need for a diverse and skilled work force. To promote retention and career advancement, the health system will provide mentoring, flexible scheduling, and assistance with other support services such as transportation or childcare. 


“This exciting new partnership encompasses education, research, patient care and community enhancement to advance a bold and innovative health care education model for Durham,” said Vincent E. Price, president of Duke University. “We are grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies for supporting this vital work, and thankful for our innovative regional partners as we create compelling new opportunities for Durham students and address critical workforce shortages.”


This initiative reflects Duke's broad commitment to forging partnerships to support strategic community priorities such as college and career readiness. Through Bloomberg Philanthropy's generosity, this innovative model of collaboration will provide significant opportunities for young people to be prepared as the next generation of leaders in health care as well as advance the overall well-being of communities.


“Through this collaboration, we will advance economic stability and economic mobility within our communities by expanding educational and career opportunities while addressing critical workforce shortages,” said Craig T. Albanese, chief executive officer of Duke University Health System. “Duke Health’s engagement in this partnership, led by Debra Clark Jones, our associate vice president for Community Health, is one of many DUHS initiatives aimed at improving the overall health, both clinically and socially, of the communities we serve.”


“Duke Health is committed to health equity where everyone in our community has a fair and just opportunity to be their healthiest,” said Debra Clark Jones, associate vice president for Community Health at Duke Health. “Working collaboratively with our community partners to remove barriers to education and good jobs is critical to advancing health equity. I cannot be prouder of leading this important effort on behalf of Duke Health. This initiative is a great example of how we improve overall community health by partnering with intention and leveraging our respective strengths and assets.”


In addition to providing a direct pathway to health care jobs, an apprenticeship program through the Duke University School of Medicine will offer a direct route for students to pursue clinical research.


“We are delighted by this opportunity to extend and deepen our work with local education partners,” said Mary E. Klotman, Duke University’s executive vice president for health affairs and dean of Duke University School of Medicine. 


“Duke brings strength to this partnership not only as the lead employer for this program but also because we are especially well-positioned to support learners,” Klotman said. “This initiative’s innovative apprenticeship program will offer a more direct pathway for talented young people to enter the profession in clinical research units across Duke. This helps address acute talent shortages, while allowing students to gain professional experience in a supportive learning environment.” 


The early college high school could help ensure that a significant percentage of new frontline health care workers reflect the Durham communities served by DUHS. Because Durham Public Schools is one of the most diverse districts in the region, with approximately 81% students who are non-white, the graduates of the early college who join DUHS could help improve health care access, patient care and engagement, and equity in health outcomes.


"The Bloomberg grant provides a unique opportunity for Durham Public Schools, Duke Health, and Durham Tech to create a transformative educational partnership that will be a “win” for everyone in our community," said Tara Fikes, Durham Tech Board of Trustees chairwoman. "As a result, DPS students will have a pathway through Durham Tech to well-paying jobs in health care, helping to address the shortage of workers in the field while providing greater access to health care for all residents."


Administratively, the early college high school will be part of the DPS system, operated jointly by the public school system and Durham Tech. DPS will provide high school teachers, a principal, support staff, student services, and curricular resources. Students will also be dually enrolled at DTCC, which will begin renovating a building on site to house the new school.


DUHS will also contribute employee time to engage with students in classroom projects, co-teach, and supervise work-based learning opportunities. In addition, the health system will evaluate the program and calculate its overall value and measures of success.


"The plans and aspirations of our partnerships aligns with the Bloomberg initiative's vision," said Bettina Umstead, chair of the Durham Public Schools Board of Education. “Together, we will create innovative education models, prepare young adults for successful career opportunities and address critical shortages in health care talent, ultimately ensuring our DPS students connect with health care career opportunities in their home, the City of Medicine.”