Student, Family, Community Success: That’s The Dallas County Promise

Dr. Joe May, Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, is a guest contributor for the College Promise Campaign

Seeds for the Dallas County Promise were planted long before the program was announced in fall 2017. Those seeds—which sprouted with the Rising Star program more than 20 years earlier—began to grow when the Dallas County Community College District’s higher education network began to synapse and expand.

Since then, Dallas County Promise has become an integral part of that network, bringing together DCCCD, other colleges and universities in the area, multiple school districts, businesses, and education and community organizations. We have one common goal: student access, success, and college completion.

Dr. Joe May and DCCCD students attend Community College Day in Austin, TX.

More than 200 Promise programs exist across the country. The nature and structure of Dallas County Promise is based on an intricate network of partners. Our Promise is funded by the Dallas County Community College District Foundation; however, it serves not only as a financial resource, but also as the coordinating force that brings together all education, community, and business groups who comprise the Promise network. That’s why our Promise is unique.

As a member of the College Promise Advisory Board, I watched Promise programs develop nationally and knew that our college district would be a strong voice in the movement. After visiting with our Tennessee Promise colleagues, DCCCD began planning a comprehensive program that would bring partners together who put students first.

Even as the Dallas-area economy and housing market continue to grow faster than almost any area of the country, the number of people living in poverty has increased 42% over the last 15 years. Finishing high school can be a challenge. Going to college, for some, isn’t something they’ve even considered. They don’t have the money for tuition, they have transportation and child care problems, and they may not have enough to eat.

Dallas County Promise and its network are determined to remove those barriers.

Dr. Chesney meets with DCCCD students.

Our bottom line is student success: graduating from high school; going to college; following a pathway to earn a credential that makes students employable; and starting careers that support our economy, families and communities. Those credentials are their ticket to jobs that pay a living wage and kick-start their careers.

Initially, DCCCD, the Dallas Independent School District and the University of North Texas at Dallas became education partners to increase college access through Dallas County Promise. Commit! has been a steadfast partner, in addition to the DCCCD Foundation.

Most students in Dallas ISD will participate in the Promise by enrolling at one of DCCCD’s seven colleges. They can earn an associate’s degree and enter the workforce, or they can transfer to several area universities, including UNT-Dallas or Southern Methodist University, where Promise scholarships provided by those institutions will take them further along the pathway to a bachelor’s degree.

Students of Eastfield College, part of DCCCD, show off their school pride.

We started with 31 early college high schools when the Dallas County Promise launched. That choice was based on previously-established partnerships between DCCCD and Dallas ISD that included businesses that signed on to support P-Tech schools.

Results for the first cohort speak for themselves: 9,300 students, 80 percent who are economically disadvantaged, are participating. They are diverse: 55 percent Hispanic, 35 percent African American, and 10 percent Caucasian. Of that group, 96 percent completed Promise pledges, and 62 percent completed the FAFSA, placing our program among the top five in the U.S. for financial aid application completion.

This fall, 12 more schools will join Dallas County Promise; eventually, all high schools in Dallas County will participate—107 schools—more than some entire states! That’s important for Dallas County, which educates 10% of all Texans.

Dr. Joe May with DCCCD student leaders in Washington, D.C.

On May 2nd, during a national kick-off with Dr. Jill Biden, the Dallas County Promise is celebrating with students in all of our program’s early college high schools. Pep rallies, college commitment ceremonies with graduating seniors, and other festivities will mark the start of bright futures for our Promise students. More partners are signing on because they understand the critical need to help our students succeed.

It takes more than parents and teachers to help our students. It takes entire school districts, colleges and universities, city and county government, businesses, and all community organizations getting involved, removing barriers and making a difference in students’ lives. That’s the Dallas County Promise.

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