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Tuition-Free College Gives Dallas County Students A Promising Start

Mountain View College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, in southwest Dallas.
Cedar Valley College via Facebook
Mountain View College, part of the Dallas County Community College District, in southwest Dallas.

As a senior in high school, Jose Alvarez said he didn’t think he’d be able to attend college. He didn’t understand the application process and didn’t think he could afford it.

Then he learned about Commit's Dallas County Promise, which helps students attend college by covering their tuition.

“Regardless of income and GPA, they said, I simply knew that I could qualify and I would have a tuition-free path guaranteed. And I do,” Alvarez said during a recent speech to community and business leaders.

Alvarez is now enrolled at El Centro College and plans to transfer to Texas State or Texas A&M University to major in business. He said he wants to start his own business.

“It allowed me to dream with reduced anxiety about college and it helped so much for me and my classmates,” he said.

Dallas County Promise, which was modeled after a similar program in Tennessee, was launched in 2017.

Students who participate can attend one of seven Dallas County Community colleges. Some universities, including UNT Dallas and SMU, also accept graduating seniors who've completed their associate's degree. There’s no GPA or income requirement.

The program has received support from a number of companies and nonprofits, including $3 million from JPMorgan Chase.

The initiative started with 31 area high schools. By this fall, students in 57 area high schools will be eligible to participate.

Sabine Hall Student Lounge at Richland College, part of the DCCCD, in northeast Dallas.
Credit Richland College via Facebook
Sabine Hall Student Lounge at Richland College, part of the DCCCD, in northeast Dallas.

“The big question we’re trying to answer is Dallas has a need for talent and we have a need to help more of our citizens participate in the growth and opportunities in a very dynamic Dallas economy,” said Eric Ban, managing director of Dallas County Promise.

A new report about the program points to a big gap in the county between students who enroll in college and the number of jobs that require a post-secondary degree.

Dale Petrosky, CEO of the Dallas Regional Chamber, is concerned about that gap. In the last nine years, he said, 130 companies have moved their headquarters to North Texas. But there’s a problem.

“Tens of thousands of jobs are unfilled because not enough workers have the right education or the right skills for the jobs that are open,” Petrosky said. “Sixty-five percent of our jobs require a post-secondary education. Only 37% of our adults have that post-secondary education.”

And of those who graduate from a high school in Dallas County, less than one-third go on to get a college degree.

Dallas County Promise could help change that. In one year, the Dallas County Community College District saw a 35% enrollment increase from participating high schools.

Ban said just helping kids with tuition costs can make a big difference.

“It’s the real and perceived No. 1 barrier for college, particularly for our most vulnerable families,” he said.

Paying for college is one barrier. Staying in school is another. That’s why, Band said, students enrolled in Dallas County Promise are paired with a mentor – someone who can guide them through college and to graduation.

You can see the complete Dallas County Promise report below. 

Dallas County Promise Talent Report . Final by KERANews on Scribd

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.