DALLAS – Jose Alvarez describes himself as a struggling, first-generation student at El Centro College. His hardships include a lack of transportation and food. But he has made himself and his family a promise to “never give up.”
“My college experience at the moment is going 50-50. This was probably one of my hardest weeks I’ve had yet because I’m dealing with issues like transportation and definitely in need of a healthy meal,” he said. “Ramen Noodles are not the wave, but I’m definitely grateful to have this scholarship that’s helping me and my fellow classmates,” he said, referring to a last-dollar scholarship from the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) Foundation.
Alvarez, a 2018 graduate of Grand Prairie High School, heard about Dallas Promise when it was introduced to his high school during his senior year. “It really changed the lives of those who struggle or have life happening at the moment,” he said.
Dallas County Promise—a massive effort to send every graduating senior to college for free—has not only been successful but transformative, according to administrators of the program.
“We are excited to welcome more than 2,500 Promise students to our seven colleges in the Dallas County Community College District’s system this fall,” said Dr. Joe May, Chancellor of DCCCD.“That’s a significant number of new students and, because it’s our first year for the Promise program, those students represent hours and hours of work done by DCCCD and our education partners, participating school districts, the Commit Partnership, early college high schools, and universities that all are investing in the Promise.”
Alvarez said Dallas Promise has made it possible for him to attend college.
“This scholarship not only helps you pay for your school, but it also makes sure that you’re all set, especially if you’re doing this by yourself with no other people to help,” he said
May said that two years ago, DCCD undertook a study to find out what the student experience was like across its seven colleges.
“We learned that many students face barriers which cause friction in their lives and can hamper their work in the classroom,” May said. “The faces of the students we serve have changed, and we are using our network – DCCCD’s as well as the Promise network – to remove those barriers to success, such as problems with tuition and books, transportation, hunger and other day-to-day issues.”
He said that Dallas County Promise covers the cost of attending college while the DCCCD Network works directly with students to help remove other barriers that students might face.
“A year ago, DCCCD and our foundation formed a partnership with the North Texas Food Bank to provide nutritious food through its mobile food pantry every month with visits to our colleges; those colleges, in turn, have opened or will start campus food pantries, too,” May said. “Our successful free DCCCD DART GoPass helps eliminate transportation barriers. And we also offer services to students that connect them with agencies throughout our community to help them with other needs. That’s the importance of an integrated network: to help our students so that they can study, work and earn the credentials they need to succeed.”
The organization recently held an event at Brookhaven College to celebrate its latest success, landing a $3 million investment from its first corporate partner, JPMorgan Chase.
According to Dr. Eric Ban, the Promise’s managing director, the funds will be used for IT and data support, and more staff to help scale its mentoring efforts.
“One of the desires of the program is to pair students with a mentor in their field of study,” Ban said. “But that’s not a small task. The county’s public high schools will graduate 16,000 students.”
Officials will track enrollment, student success and degree completion for all Promise students, with assistance from school district and university partners.
May said that the original Dallas County Promise partnership included DCCCD, the Commit Partnership, the University of North Texas at Dallas and the Dallas Independent School District (ISD). Less than a year after its launch, the education partnership included six additional ISDs and Southern Methodist University. Promise now includes 43 early college high schools in cohort 2 – and those students attend classes either on high school or college campuses.”
He said that DCCCD and UNT Dallas have fully integrated Promise students into their enrollment systems.
“Discussions are under way with other Dallas-area universities to join us as well. We want to continue to welcome new higher education partners to Dallas County Promise,” May said. “We are all in this effort together for our students. I am proud that the DCCCD Foundation has led the way in funding the Promise program.”
Ann Hatch, a spokesman for DCCCD, said plans are already underway for the next wave of students to take part in Dallas Promise.
May said the program and its resources are expected to grow beyond its current 2,500 current students.
“As the Dallas County Promise program expands, we know that those numbers will increase,” May said. “Dallas County has made a commitment to develop a world-class talent pipeline that creates equity in outcomes for students, families, and communities.”
One of several outstanding aspects of Dallas County Promise is its ties to workforce and economic development in Dallas County – particularly its engagement with business partners who need a well-trained workforce for the evolving job market, said May.
“And, in spite of a booming economy, Dallas County faces an increase in poverty as well,” May said. “While not everyone needs a four-year degree to find a job that pays a living wage, they do need some college, especially as technology changes the face of the job market. That’s where Dallas County Promise comes in: college completion represents economic opportunity for everyone.”
He said students are selecting career pathways that align with the regional job market.
For example, Alvarez is scrapping his initial plans to become a dental hygienist and is looking to change his major to graphic design or a combination of graphic design and marketing. He said he hopes “to start a chain reaction in my family and become a role model for my younger siblings.”