Boosting Career Readiness in Dallas

Of the 19,000 economically disadvantaged Dallas County 8th graders in 2006, less than 10% went on to complete a college degree six years after high school graduation, by 2016. Community leaders agreed they needed to find a way to do better.  

Two years ago, a delegation from Dallas visited Tennessee to learn about the Tennessee Promise Scholarship program. Partners from Dallas County Community College Foundation, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and Commit Partnership came home and launched Dallas County Promise.

The success of the Tennessee program coincided with the development of the National College Promise Campaign to build broad public support for funding the first two years of higher education for hard-working students, starting with community colleges. There are currently over 200 promise models across the country.

Managing Director of the Dallas County Promise, Eric Ban explained that students get free community college tuition and a success coach beginning during a student’s high school senior year and continue through college completion. Textbooks stipends are available for students with a 2.5 GPA or better who demonstrate financial need. Transfer scholarships are available to UNT Dallas and SMU, with more universities coming on board soon.

Dallas County Promise is working with 9,300 seniors in 31 high schools in 7 school districts—a population larger than eight states. Almost all of the students have signed up. The campaign has boosted completion of financial aid forms and access to federal aid.

Dallas County Promise received a $3 million grant from JP Morgan Chase to ensure that free college programs lead to a more robust North Texas middle-skill workforce.

Connecting for Success

After just a year in operation, “We started on second base and didn’t hit a double, given the strength of the leadership across Dallas County working on P-Tech, Early College, Guided Pathways, and the well-developed data capabilities and college access work of the Commit Partnership,” said Ban.

“We try to connect three adults to each Promise scholar,” explained Ban. In addition to the success coaches described above, a pathway advisor supports smart course sequencing. Career mentors, recruited through a partnership with the Regional Dallas Chamber, United Way Metropolitan Dallas, and Workforce Solutions Greater Dallas provide practical advice on career options and emerging job cluster.

“We aspire to build a fabric of support for each Promise scholar,” said Ban. As they expand to 43 high schools next year, they will be helping the county develop solutions in remediation, expanding college credit options and aligning with career opportunities and work-based learning. They encourage high schools to create portrait of a graduate.

Better Data, Better Results, Better Transcripts

Dallas County Promise uses data analytics to “help high schools and colleges remove barriers in the transition from high school and college and see the progress of students so that everyone can better support the needs of every student.” added Ban.

Dr. Joe May, Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, has been a champion removing the barriers of college transitions and working collaboratively with school districts, universities, and workforce with data sharing to better support each student.

“Most high schools have all the right college and career information but it’s trapped in six or seven systems from test data to career awareness,” explained Ban.

A grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation supports the secure real-time export of college and career ready data. “We securely export the right data into a secure database using the Ed-Fi standards so schools can case manage their students more effectively,” said Ban.  

“There are problems with the transcript that we’re hoping to solve,” said Mike Baur, program officer at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. “Transcripts need to be standardized and understandable, and that’s what our work is aiming to achieve.” And, he added, one of the ways to solve this problem is through interoperability.

To that end, the Dell Foundation supported the grant for a cloud-hosted Ed-Fi powered “Dynamic Transcript” for its potential to help Texas school districts and colleges automate and simplify the complex processes associated with sharing and visualizing student transcript data and summative assessment results. 

Baur envisions a transcript with a high level of interpretability—a useful visualization on top of a standard data record. He also sees scale potential with other Promise programs.

To make transcripts be more valuable, employers will need to articulate their job-ready competencies and employment needs, now and in the future, explained Baur.

“Texas is big, so regional solutions like Dallas County Promise are important,” explained Ban. He sees the links from K-12 to higher education as critical.

After making transcripts digital, visual, and transferable, the longer term goal is to expand them to include work-ready skills and microcredentials.  

“It’s not just scholarships,” said Ban, “it’s a transformational effort to help our community move forward and solve the regional talent gap by producing college completion with equity.” Ban and his team are building a playbook to help other cities do the same.

This post was originally published on Forbes.

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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