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Dallas College – Breaking Barriers to Affordable Higher Education

DCCCD now Dallas College makes bachelor’s degrees available

Outside of our pages, you’ve likely seen or heard ads promoting the new identity of the community college system that has long served Dallas County. More than simply a rebranding, the shift to Dallas College significantly strengthens its ability to empower North Texans. 

The promos went into heavy rotation this summer, after the Dallas County Community College District received the greenlight to merge its seven colleges into one institution named Dallas College. As such, El Centro, Eastfield, Richland, Brookhaven, Mountain View, North Lake and Cedar Valley now serve as campuses. 

The new structure widens the possibility of granting more degrees than ever — and not just associate degrees. The institution also received approval to start offering its first four-year degree program this fall. 

“We’re laying the groundwork for the next 50 years,” Dallas College Chancellor Joe May told Infórmate DFW in a phone interview. “We’re getting ourselves in a place to be able to better respond to the incredibly fast-changing needs of our community.”

Due to its 54-year history of continually upping its game to keep education affordable and accessible, IDFW didn’t think twice about making Dallas College the star of our 2020 Higher EducationEdition. The college says that, each semester, it enrolls about 84,000 credit students — nearly half of them Hispanic — and 20,000 continuing education students. Among other support, it issues about $19 million per year in free tuition. Overall, it has served nearly 3 million students in its lifetime. 

Here, we provide insight into the recent changes and how Dallas College plans to further its mission of transforming lives and communities.

THE WAY WE WERE

The momentum toward one institution started about 15 months ago, when DCCCD officials learned that operating seven separate colleges was impeding degree completion for hundreds, if not thousands, of students. 

From 2016 to 2018 alone, associate degrees were denied to more than 1,300 students who had earned enough credits for one. The reason? They hadn’t acquired at least 25 percent of the credits from one institution that could grant the degree, according to the district’s application for single accreditation to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. 

“As much as we’re proud of the history of our colleges and the great work they’ve done in the community, it was pretty hard for me to sleep at night knowing that our very structure was keeping people away,” May said. 

Going forward, students will receive degrees from Dallas College, enabling them to freely attend multiple campuses without ramifications. This is increasingly important, Dallas College trustee Monica Lira Bravo told us, considering the growing number of students taking courses at various locations. As of last spring, more than 24,000 students fit this category.

With solid reasoning to be a single college, the quest began to find a new brand identity. Feedback gathered from students, employees, campus leaders, branding experts and community members overwhelmingly showed confusion around DCCCD and its colleges being separate entities or a whole. This was expected, since the seven colleges each had their own of just about everything, from accreditations and orientations to logos, colors and mascots, according to a press release.

Shawnda Floyd, who now oversees academic programming as Dallas College provost, can relate. As a newcomer from New Jersey when joining North Lake in 2014, “it was a hard concept to get that we were a district but we were seven schools,” she told us in a video interview. 

Dallas College surfaced as the name that could reflect the future and honor the past. May is convinced it was the right choice. 

“At first, it didn’t have kind of a ring to it,” he said of the name. “But, as we talked to people and got feedback, we realized this does a really good job of describing who we are, what we’re about, the community we’re a part of.”

The institution will officially become the largest four-year college in Texas (based on students served and number of employees), once SACSCOC visits its grounds this fall to confirm operations are consistent with the approved application. However, May insisted its combined size is not as important as the campuses’ continued ability to serve needs specific totheir neighborhoods.

“We’re preserving a lot of that culture because we want to continue to be community focused,” he said. “We really are about listening to our partners, the communities we serve — figuring out how we can best support the challenges that these communities face.”

That’s also a good thing in terms of costs. With Dallas College estimating full-time tuition at $1,896 per academic year for in-county residents, it continues to walk the line of relatively inexpensive community college. It’s similar to the average $2,259 paid for full-time, in-state tuition at public two-year institutions in Texas during the 2018-19 academic year and much below the average $8,678 at four-year counterparts, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. 

BACK TO THE FUTURE

In many ways, the merger further supports the state’s 60x30TX plan to have 60 percent of Texans ages 25 to 34 earn postsecondary degrees or certificates by 2030. It’s the rate needed for Texas to remain competitive in the global economy, but only about 44 percent of people currently fit the bill, according the state’s 2019 progress report.

“What we’re really focused on is how we solve the challenge of getting more people into high-paying jobs in Dallas, knowing that there are so many being left behind by the economy, that the income disparity is growing,” May said. “That’s really caused by individuals in Dallas County not having the knowledge, skills, abilities and certifications they need to get the jobs that are really growing, expanding and paying well.”

Among the ways Dallas College is accelerating certification and degree completions is by enabling eligible high schoolers to earn tuition-free college credits while they earn a diploma. The institution says it currently partners with 15 school districts to offer dual credit courses at early college high schools and collegiate academies found within 77 high schools and its campuses. In the 2019-20 school year alone, approximately 26,000 students took advantage of the dual credit courses. 

With its first four-year degree program, a Bachelor of Applied Sciences in early childhood education and teaching, Dallas College will provide more than an affordable pathway to higher credentials and earning potential. It will help address the shortage of qualified teachers in birth-to-third-grade childhood education, which highly impacts a child’s academic trajectory, said Robert DeHaas, vice provost of the Dallas College School of Education.

After the state deemed early childhood education one of three high-need fields, Dallas College engaged in a study that showed North Texas needed more than 4,300 educators for early learners (birth to third grade) in 2018. To keep up with demand, an additional 450 would need to be produced each year thereafter, he elaborated. 

Aside from the region’s skyrocketing population driving the demand, there’s growing evidence of the important role early learning plays in a child’s development and future success. For example, research indicates that a child’s brain reaches 80 percent of its adult volume by age 3 and 90 percent by age 5. In terms of academics, the state has seen that the more high-quality prekindergarten education students receive, the better they perform in third-grade reading exams. In turn, reading at level in third grade correlates to higher chances of graduating high school, and so forth. Accordingly, the state passed a bill in 2019 to fund full-day versus half-day, high-quality pre-K programs, DeHaas explained to us.

“We need to ensure that these young children have access to the highest quality of learning or we see ramifications later on in their academic career,” he said. “The same way we know it’s so important to have a high-quality teacher in first, second and third grade, we need to be advocating for that same level of professionalism, of rigor, of degree attainment, of pay at the early childhood level.”

While the college could not confirm the next bachelor’s degree program, May says it’s already looking into workforce needs and opportunities being created by the pandemic. In addition to insight from its Labor Market Intelligence Center team, Dallas College is leveraging a newly created academic incubator to further identify and build out new certifications, degrees or programs that align with the job market. 

An “interesting thing about the crisis: It eliminates jobs, and it creates jobs,” he said. “As we see new areas emerge, we want to make sure we’re on top of them. For example, even with the downsize of the airline industry, there’s a lot of growth around aerospace-related technologies, as it relates to transportation and other areas. They’re increasingly working with new types of metals and materials, but we don’t do anything in that space right now. That’s one of the first areas the academic incubator has already started to work on.”

Physical expansions are also on the horizon. A new, 100,000 square-foot facility for construction sciences is already underway at North Lake to address the area’s growing need for construction management professionals. Thanks to a $1.1 billion bond county voters approved last year, Dallas College will construct and revamp numerous more buildings.

The most awaited project is arguably the all-new El Centro. The founding campus that started it all for Dallas College consists of refurbished old retail stores that cannot accommodate anticipated growth in downtown, May said. Beyond an education facility, the new campus will also serve as an innovation hub to help businesses and entrepreneurs bring ideas to life.

“The fact that the citizens of Dallas showed that kind of confidence in us — in our faculty, our staff, our ability — to solve the problems of individuals, employers, community at large, … it still gives me goosebumps,” May said of the bond. “I take that trust very, very seriously. We really want to leverage those resources for the future of Dallas, Dallas County and the entire region, … use them in a way to make a big difference.”

Here at IDFW, we’re looking forward to the positive changes Dallas College expects to bring across North Texas. Until then, we leave you with parting words from provost Floyd, who perhaps best summarized the mission ahead. 

“I’m really excited about all the energy around us becoming one and the opportunities this will create for students,” she said. “We’re going to bust barriers down and really help them achieve their goal of economic advancement, degree attainment — that American Dream they all come to college for.”

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