Economically disadvantaged eighth-grade students in Dallas County have a 1 in 10 chance of completing a college credential six years after high school graduation, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
And Dallas Thrives, a community initiative aimed at bolstering living-wage job attainment, notes that only 1 in 4 Dallas County adults from 25 to 34 earn a living wage — and that the county’s white residents have three times the chance of earning a living wage as compared with their Hispanic and Black counterparts.
These unsettling findings underscore a national report, America’s Divided Recovery, which suggests there has never been a time in our history that college skills and credentials are more vital for our residents, particularly those who come from underrepresented groups, to secure living-wage jobs.
As a university chancellor and president, I recognize that higher education provides a powerful path to socioeconomic mobility, and it is my responsibility as a leader to help underrepresented groups gain access to — and successfully navigate through — a college education.
In North Texas, there is no doubt that higher education institutions have had a transformational impact on the lives of countless students over the decades. But working collaboratively, there is more our institutions can do to meaningfully enhance opportunities for at-risk populations.
Just this week, Texas Woman’s University, leading a consortium of institutions and Dallas high schools, launched an initiative that will give students free, quick, mobile access to their academic records anytime, which will facilitate greatly their ability to transfer to other schools, demonstrate certifications to prospective employers, and apply to undergraduate and graduate school.
This effort was made possible through a Blockchain Innovation Challenge grant from the American Council on Education, and helps illustrate how institutions such as TWU are taking leadership roles to further build a North Texas college and work ecosystem that places the student at the center of the socioeconomic mobility journey.
This collaboration is significant not only because of the service it provides to the student, but for the way competing institutions are finding common ground to enhance student opportunities.
Dallas Thrives, co-chaired by the Dallas Regional Chamber and the Commit Partnership, has set a goal of doubling the number of Dallas County residents earning a living wage and eliminating the earning gap by race and gender — and doing so by the end of the next generation. This recent effort is only one example of how the collective energy in this group of education leaders is helping achieve that goal.
Joined by other institutions including Dallas Colleges, the University of North Texas at Dallas, Texas A&M University-Commerce and the University of Texas at Arlington, we have taken other bold steps that we expect will positively impact higher education enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Consider these actions:
Completion Universities: We have secured a new grant through the Commit Partnership and Blue Meridian to build a collaborative with Texas A&M University-Commerce and the University of North Texas at Dallas to build common systems, share data and accelerate learning and growth to help first-generation students more successfully complete their degrees and secure living-wage jobs.
Texas College Bridge: Faculty from many North Texas institutions have stepped forward to serve on collaborative math and English advisory groups to form the Texas College Bridge with the Texas Education Agency to build more personalized, equitable and effective pathways to college readiness. More than 40 colleges and universities have joined this effort, making it the largest higher education collaborative in partnership with the Texas Education Agency in history. The program now serves 20,000 Texas high school seniors and more than 200 school districts. Moreover, Texas College Bridge students are outperforming other students in first-year math and English courses at Dallas colleges by 20 percentage points.
Direct Admissions: We have simplified messaging and processes to help first-generation families better understand North Texas higher education and navigate the admissions process.
College Enrollment Fast Pass: Supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Dallas County Promise colleges and universities have established a common enrollment “fast pass” where students can complete one set of enrollment steps on their mobile phones, including uploading and sending transcripts, then submitting them to any institution for direct enrollment.
Collectively, higher education has a vested interest in ensuring more students from underrepresented populations have easier access and more support for their post-secondary pursuits. And Texas clearly has a stake in these student outcomes for the sake of a future viable workforce. That is why we all must join the effort to move the needle in college success.