Recalling his student days, the president -- joined onstage by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and P-TECH Principal Rashid Davis -- praised the willingness of students at the two-year-old Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood to help tutor others.
"I liked math, then it started to get harder," Obama told the students "And so that can be frustrating."
One student volunteered to tutor Obama's daughters Sasha and Malia.
"We need engineers. I'm proud of you," said the president, who touted P-TECH's groundbreaking six-year program as a model for the nation in his State of the Union address in January.
Students at the school can take college-level courses in math and science to earn an associate degree from City University of New York and a shot at a job with IBM, a partner that provides mentors in the school's program.
Obama said in a global economy the jobs will go to the best educated.
"Companies, they're looking for the best-educated people, wherever they live. And they'll reward them with good jobs and good pay. And if you don't have a well-educated workforce, you're gonna be left behind," he said.
"This country should be doing everything in our power to give more kids the chance to go to schools just like this one," said Obama criticizing the budget gridlock in Washington that shutdown parts of the federal government for 16 days earlier in October.
"If you think education's expensive, wait till you see how much ignorance costs."
Obama reminded the students that he once lived in Brooklyn.
"And I actually landed Marine One in Prospect Park. I used to live across the street from Prospect Park. When I was living here, Brooklyn was cool. But not this cool."