Dallas County Promises Free College Tuition to Area Seniors

free college tuition
Cedar Hill faculty

Dallas County’s promise of free college tuition for area seniors was exciting for parents and students alike. Pledge ceremonies were held in area high schools to celebrate the good news that Dallas County offers to provide free college student to graduating seniors in 2018. The offer of free tuition is available regardless of income or GPA.

Students, parents and faculty at Cedar Hill High School celebrated pledge day Wed., Nov. 8 with a program held in the auditorium. The students took the important first step, filling out an online Dallas County pledge form, which was required by everyone participating in the program.

Students have the opportunity to attend any Dallas County Community College District campus tuition free. After graduating DCCCD, students have an option to transfer to UNT Dallas, tuition free. SMU will offer free tuition to students who meet income and eligibility requirements. Additional university partners will join the Dallas County Promise team as well.

The promise starts with 31 area high schools in 2018, including Cedar Hill, Cedar Hill Collegiate, DeSoto, Lancaster, and South Grand Prairie. It will expand to other Dallas County schools in subsequent years. The Dallas County Community College District and university partners are making this offer to students who need college skills and credentials to build careers, find jobs that pay a living wage and drive a growing North Texas economy.

Dr. Joe May, DCCCD’s chancellor, said, “Guided by the vision of the DCCCD Foundation, with the support of our trustees, and supported by the engagement of our community as well as several area universities, I am proud to announce the Dallas County Promise. We know that the greatest barrier to college completion is cost. With the support of our partners, we will create more affordable pathways to college completion, which also will align with the needs of the North Texas workforce. It’s a game-changer for students, businesses and the communities we serve that will transform lives.”

The first group of Promise high school students will graduate in the spring of 2018. Leading up to that point, high school seniors at those schools must complete these steps in order to be eligible for the program:
• sign a “Promise Pledge” by Jan. 31, 2018;
• complete an ApplyTX or DCCCD admissions application and submit FAFSA/TASFA forms, listing their DCCCD college of choice, by March 15, 2018;
• enroll at a DCCCD college and complete registration by July 31, 2018; and
• maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 18 credit hours each academic year to continue to receive tuition benefits.

Lancaster High School Senior Lah ‘Niva Jordan-Hawkins said, “I think the Dallas County Promise is a great opportunity for all students in Dallas County. This program makes it possible for every student to receive at least one degree. I had already made a commitment to my family that I would be going to college no matter what, but now I have the opportunity not only to go to college but also to go to college free! My family and I will take full advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And the money I save on college will help fund my day-to-day life, like living arrangements and other personal things I may need for school or at home.”

“The program is giving me a more affordable and effective pathway through college for my career. Because I am entering the medical field doing one of the most prestigious surgical jobs, cosmetic surgeon, I will be in college a lot longer than many of my peers. This program shaves off some of the hassle of being an undergraduate college student on a huge campus where I would be just one of the thousands of students at the institution. By attending El Centro College, I’ll receive a more up-close and personal learning experience,” she added. “The Promise also has made me more confident about the pathway to my career. I feel as though there is no reason why I will not be successful. Even if I get lost in my tracks or decide that I no longer want to pursue becoming a plastic surgeon, the program is set up so that I will still be able to rely on the degree that was afforded to me with the help of the Dallas County Promise.”

Melody Scott, Cedar Hill High School senior Morgan Scott’s mother, (who already has two kids currently in college), attended the pledge ceremony at Cedar Hill High School. She said, “This is a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Jesus! No debt!”

Cedar Hill High School students sign pledge

Morgan Scott said, “There are no excuses. Everyone can go to college. I am super excited; I was one of the first students to complete the process.”

CHHS senior class president Jaelon Jackson, a first generation college student, said, “This will give me more options and will help with a backup plan.”

The Dallas County Promise is a scholarship offered by the Dallas County Community College District Foundation; it’s an expansion of the existing Rising Star scholarship program. All students who are seniors at participating Dallas County high schools who meet the Promise deadlines will receive sufficient funding to pay the full cost of tuition for up to three years or degree completion at any DCCCD college.

Promise Scholars will benefit from college success mentors and also will be able to receive a Rising Star scholarship which covers the cost of books if they have a high school GPA of 2.5 or higher and meet income requirements.

The University of North Texas at Dallas was the first university which promised to match the tuition-free guarantee for Dallas County students who attend participating high schools. “The problem of college completion in Dallas County is just too big for any one institution to address alone,” said Bob Mong, president of UNT Dallas. “This has to be a community effort.”

“The Dallas County Promise program is a great opportunity that will provide college access to more students,” said Dr. Michael Hinojosa, superintendent for the Dallas Independent School District. “The cost of college can be a deciding factor in whether or not students attend college. This program helps to remove that barrier and ensures that our students are even more prepared to join the ranks of an educated, well-trained workforce.”

The Dallas County Promise proposes to reduce the gap in both skills and credentials which creates a tale of two cities in the region: a growing economy with a rising poverty rate. Dallas is one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the country. However, only 27 percent of all high school graduates currently are earning two- or four-year degrees within six years of their high school completion.

The Dallas County Promise proposes to help a substantially higher number of students complete college, which gives them a greater number of economic opportunities that require a post-secondary credential. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce has reported that 99 percent of all new jobs created since the 2008 recession require some college after high school graduation.

“The DCCCD Foundation wanted to build on the success of the Rising Star scholarship by focusing on helping more students complete college who are prepared for the workforce,” said Dr. Pyeper Wilkins, chief advancement officer and executive director of the foundation. “With the support of the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey and Company, and the Commit partnership, we were able to develop a Promise strategy which is modeled after the success of the Tennessee Promise.”

The first 31 high schools in Cohort 1 of the Dallas County Promise form the initial group for the program’s launch. Campuses that were invited to participate all are either TEA-approved 2017-2018 early college high schools co-sponsored by a DCCCD college, or they are co-sponsors with a DCCCD college for a collegiate academy which produced graduates with a degree from one of DCCCD’s seven colleges by spring 2017.

May added, “Boosting college completion rates in Dallas County is a community effort. We have committed our district and our resources to do this work with area school districts, universities and businesses in our communities. We take the state’s 60X30TX goal seriously. The Dallas County Promise is our answer to that plan, ensuring that 60 percent of all Texans have a college credential by 2030.”

For details about the Dallas County Promise, visit www.dallascountypromise.org or contact Pyeper Wilkins with the DCCCD Foundation at pwilkins@dcccd.edu or at 214-378-1538.