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Strengthening Cultures of Continuous Improvement in College Advising

College advisors from Cedar Hill ISD, DeSoto ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Education is Freedom, and Academic Success Program came together as an Impact & Improvement Network to strengthen their continuous improvement skills and impact postsecondary enrollment through growing the number of seniors completing FAFSA applications. Communities achieve results more quickly when they have a chance to work together and learn from each other. Collectively, the districts participating helped 1,686 seniors complete FAFSA applications by July 1, 2017. This represents a collective 63% FAFSA completion rate (compared to a 55% completion rate by non-participating districts) and is up from 48% last year. True continuous improvement means you are tracking the data, identifying whether or not an intervention was successful or not and folding that information back into what you do. The Impact & Improvement Network participants shifted their use of FAFSA data from reporting to identifying practices and strategies that move outcomes. In partnership with Commit!'s postsecondary team, participants practiced: Identifying which step in the financial aid process causes themost challenges for the most students using their experience and student and parent input Refining strategies to help students overcome those challenges Charting FAFSA data bi-weekly to see how effective their strategies were Actively adjusting practices based on strategy efficacy Those who attended the Dallas County College Completion Alignment Council meeting on August 30, 2017 collaborated on effective FAFSA/TASFA completion practices with participants and college advisors. The meeting included a FAFSA/TASFA Showcase with resources, tools, and an "effective practice" gallery walk from ocal campuses with high year-over-year growth in FAFSA completion rates. The Alignment Council meeting also included space to learn and discuss effective practices for supporting DREAMer/DACAmented students from local college bound advisor, Ann Marano, and the North Texas Dream Team.

Celebrating and Looking Forward: College Access & Success

The 2015-2016 school year brought many reasons to celebrate, including an increase in FAFSA/TAFSA completion rates in five districts and an increase in college enrollment after the hard-to-navigate summer months for students participating in the countywide texting program. We are invested in supporting our community partners’ work in increasing postsecondary enrollment and completion, and we look forward to continuing that work during the 2016-2017 school year alongside you. College Affordability Over the past three years, Dallas County school districts, nonprofits, higher education partners, and business community volunteers have come together to promote a better understanding of how (and why) to pay for higher education. What originated as a community coming together to host community FAFSA/TASFA workshops has evolved into a strategic effort to increase FAFSA/TASFA completion rates. Our work together now includes a broader college affordability campaign, grassroots support from area students acting as a street teams on their campuses, and multiple training sessions for advisors and after-school providers. Success to Date: As a result of these efforts, 43% of 2016 seniors completed FAFSA by July 1. While this is down one percentage point (220 seniors) from 2015, five districts had FAFSA completion rates above their 2015 rates and 18 high school campuses had at least a 5 percentage point growth. Coming Up Next: The County is in full swing getting ready for the early FAFSA/TAFSA opening this year on October 1. To make sure students are well-informed and motivated to apply as early as possible, our region is joining the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s FAFSA/TASFA Challenge by participating in the statewide GenTX campaign in November. Additionally, we have launched a new initiative for 2016-2017: the Impact and Improvement Network. Under this initiative, five districts (Cedar Hill, DeSoto, Duncanville, Grand Prairie and Lancaster) were selected to participate in an 8-month, in-depth network on continuous improvement tools and templates specifically to strengthen and improve financial aid completion rates as they adapt to the new financial aid timeline. How can you get involved? Accept the state challenge by setting a FAFSA/TASFA completion goal and/or help spread the word about financial aid here Download new toolkits and resources on including a tip sheet with talking points for non-college advisors to use to debunk financial aid myths Share college affordability events and dates with us so we can help you promote! Bridging the High School to College Transition Even for our most engaged and prepared students, the summer after high school graduation can be difficult to navigate. Graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. With these challenges, many Dallas County seniors, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, fall off track, or “melt,” at some point during their senior year or during the summer and do not enroll in any postsecondary program. To combat this, Commit! brought together local school districts and higher ed partners to launch a text messaging system in 2014-2015 that sent students reminders on college enrollment milestones and allowed them to [...]

Increased Investment Contributing to Partner Momentum and Gains in College Access

The Partnership’s efforts aligned with a growing community investment in Postsecondary Attainment are leading to strong momentum for Dallas County student achievement. While priority indicator data lags one to two years for this postsecondary area of the student pipeline, we are seeing strong progress with early indicators trending positively: 5 partner districts met or exceeded Dallas County’s ambitious 46% financial aid application completion goal, including a stand-out performance by Cedar Hill ISD which grew 14% points year over year. Commit! supported our partner districts and campus leadership with regular data analysis to targetedly prioritize and increase FAFSA completion, lifting up effective practices such as using student leaders as campus champions for FAFSA completion, and by supporting a continuous improvement process to learn and replicate what works. These encouraging student outcomes are a result of the dedicated work of district leaders, counselors, college and career advisors, and nonprofit service providers. For these districts, the FAFSA increases demonstrate the power of community alignment around priorities and goals, and deeper and collective investment of time and resources to improve college access and success. These efforts are producing momentum among partners going into 2016-17: four districts that collectively serve 3,508 seniors have joined the Partnership’s Impact and Improvement Action Network to receive results-based leadership coaching to strengthen their use of data to guide their decision-making – allowing them to better identify students who need support and to increase FAFSA completion rates. Additionally, Commit! is facilitating the strategy development of 22 local colleges and school districts to prioritize increasing dual-credit enrollment and reducing remediation by 5% by 2020, helping more and more college students persist and obtain a 2- or 4-year certificate. Since the Partnership’s inception in 2012, Dallas County seniors have been impacted by growing investment targeted at improving College Access and Success in Dallas County, impacting thousands of under-resourced students through awareness campaigns and strategic interventions like financial aid workshops and Summer Melt text message reminders. These investments of public and private monies grow the number of seniors enrolling and persisting in postsecondary education and already has yielded a return for a better tomorrow for Dallas County kids. Investments from the private and philanthropic sectors in Postsecondary Attainment and the positive impact already produced are changing the conversation and catalyzing additional funding, leading North Texas and the kids who need additional resources the most to a shared prosperity.

Dallas ISD and DCCCD Early College High School Expansion: A Focus on Postsecondary Access and Completion

Some could say that Dallas County is truly a “tale of two counties." While growth in jobs and housing values have been in top rankings nationally, Dallas County leads Texas’ five largest counties in both the number of adults with less than a high school degree (23%) and those with some college experience but no diploma (20%). The underinvestment in substantial portions of our population is hindering the economic growth of our community while contributing to a society of “haves and have nots.” More is needed to reach the Partnership’s 60x30 Texas state goal, that 60% of adults ages 25-34 (who are youth aged 11-20 now) have a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030. However, for the approximately 158,000 students in the Dallas Independent School District (“DISD”), the outlook for postsecondary and career success will shortly be brighter given the district’s recent announcement to substantially increase its early college offerings. In partnership with Dallas County Community College District (“DCCCD”), DISD recently announced a plan to strategically expand its Early College high school offerings to eight high schools, serving up to 400 students per school or 3,200 in total…targeting schools where postsecondary completion rates have been well below the County and District averages. Early College Best Practices – What Gets Results? It is well known that Early College programs offer a unique opportunity for students not only to graduate high school with a high school diploma but also with an Associate Degree, dramatically reducing the cost and barriers to higher education access while increasing the likelihood a student can complete a four-year degree. A strong relationship with a university partner is a key component for this success, but equally important are the systems and strategies in place at each early college campus. They include: Professional development for educators focused on the integration of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and the Texas College Readiness Standards. Smaller learning environments coupled with academic and emotional support systems designed to foster student success. Clear curricular pathways and coursework which explicitly teaches study skills and directs students toward the completion of career certification and/or an Associate’s degree. Sustainable funding that braids together community college and ISD sources. The Data Behind the Eight New Early College Programs in DISD: The overall college enrollment and six-year completion rates for high school graduates of Dallas County public high schools is 59% and 28%, respectively, reflecting a troubling 3% and 2% decline, respectively, from last year’s report. Dallas ISD bucked the recent trend by slightly increasing its six-year completion rate slightly for the most recent class reported (H.S. Class of 2009) but still trails the region overall at 21%. One of Dallas ISD's outliers has been its early college high school programs, which reflect an estimated 37% six-year college completion rate at Garza ECHS and Lassiter Middle College*. These programs allow a student to graduate with both a High School degree and an Associate Degree at no cost to the student, significantly reducing the cost of their higher [...]

“For Oak Cliff” Back to School Festival

Organized by Taylor Toynes, Community Impact Associate, the 2nd annual For Oak Cliff Back to School Festival will take place on August 13, 2016 at Glendale Park in South Oak Cliff. With the support of partners United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Texas Instruments, Dallas Parks and Rec and Celanese, the goal is to impact over 2,000 children and families within the Oak Cliff community. Last year’s inaugural Festival impacted over 1,000 students by providing them lunch, school supplies, uniforms, and raffle prizes. This community-wide event will again jump start a fantastic 2016-17 school year by empowering and supporting community members through voter registration, a job fair, a college fair, and early childhood and Pre-K registration. In addition to family-friendly activities, entertainment and food, 2,000 students will receive the school supplies they need for the upcoming school year. Organized by students from Zumwalt Middle School, South Oak Cliff High School and TAG at Townview, a peace march will start at 8:00 am from Zumwalt proceeding to Glendale Park, where the Festival will kick off at 9:00 am. You can help make the For Oak Cliff Back to School Festival a yearly tradition that brings together family, friends, and the Oak Cliff community. For more information and opportunities to donate or volunteer, please visit our website or contact Taylor Toynes at

By |May 1st, 2016|College Access, Early Childhood, Newsletter|Comments Off on “For Oak Cliff” Back to School Festival

Financial Aid Workshop Attendees Qualify for $511,000 in Pell Grant Funds

Debt. The dreaded four-letter word of paying for college. So much so, one of the four state goals for increasing Texas’ postsecondary completion rates is to maintain a moderate ratio of student loan debt to first-year earnings. This fear of taking out any loans is one reason some families don’t complete the FAFSA/TASFA application. But this misunderstanding of the financial aid process also prevents students from receiving grant aid that doesn’t have to be repaid. Last year low-income seniors missed out on $30 million in Pell Grant funds alone. Commit! partners have long recognized the link between college affordability and degree completion. Over the past three years, Dallas County school districts and higher education partners have come together to promote a better understanding of how and why to pay for higher education. 2016 partner accomplishments to date include: Increasing awareness of college affordability through news coverage, in-school marketing materials, and the campaign thanks to the support of Ad2Dallas; Creating grassroots support by training 100 high school juniors and seniors to serve as peer-to-peer campus ambassadors for college affordability and to inform marketing messages; Empowering 140 high school counselors, advisors, and after school providers through training from uAspire, a national leader on coaching families to make wise college financial decisions; Assisting 431 families at five community-wide financial aid workshops, 218 of whom submitted their FAFSA application the day of the workshop and accessed just over half a million dollars in Pell Grant aid. The Dallas County Financial Aid Action Network is preparing for two big changes to the financial aid process in 2016-17. Next year the FAFSA application will be available three months earlier than usual and will be able to be submitted using previous year’s tax information. These changes will eliminate barriers for families but will also require additional awareness and marketing efforts. Dallas County will align on a common FAFSA awareness month for next year to ensure information and support is widely available.

By |January 1st, 2016|College Access, Newsletter|Comments Off on Financial Aid Workshop Attendees Qualify for $511,000 in Pell Grant Funds

Partnership Uses Text Messaging to Bridge the “Summer Melt”

This summer we recapped the Partnership’s successful efforts to boost financial aid applications – 650 more Dallas County seniors completed the FAFSA by Texas’ March 2015 priority deadline, ensuring that more low-income students receive aid to support college enrollment. However, the summer after high school graduation can also be difficult to navigate, as graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. To address this “summer melt” period, four school districts, 11 colleges and ATT teamed up to launch a texting service based on national research that allowed students to receive reminders on college enrollment milestones and text back to counselors and higher ed staff. While enrollment results won’t be available until early 2016, here are some early findings and lessons learned: Early Findings: • 1,037 high school seniors opted in to participate • Over 70% of participating students engaged in at least three conversations via text message as a result of the college reminder program • 81% of the respondents found the text reminders to be helpful or incredibly helpful Lessons Learned: • Opening up texting communication channels allowed students a safe place to ask questions of their high school counselors and college staff. • Students continue to express trepidation about paying for college, which reinforces the Partnership’s focus on financial aid help. • As a result of the text message reminders, districts became aware of summer transcript requests as a significant barrier students face when registering for college classes. As one senior class graduates, another now faces the financial aid and enrollment process. Here’s how you can get involved: • Encourage 2016 seniors to sign up for text message reminders! Seniors may opt-in to participate by completing the online form for their district: Dallas ISD, Lancaster ISD, DeSoto ISD, and Grand Prairie ISD. • Nominate high school juniors and seniors and college underclassmen to serve as Student Ambassadors by Oct. 28. Thanks to your nominations last year, we had over 60 students help promote financial aid completion via social media and marketing materials on their campuses. This year we are enhancing this peer-to-peer networking component by including additional college underclassmen. • Visit for all the latest events, including free financial aid professional development, community FAFSA/TASFA workshops, and open convenings. Have a college access/success event you’d like help spreading the word on? Email

Postsecondary Attainment Partners Help Students Overcome Fears, Boost Financial Aid Applications

“You can’t go to college.” These words from an admired high school teacher singed Jesse Soto’s confidence. At the time he was undocumented, didn’t have the best grades, and the cost of college seemed too great to overcome. But Jesse had a dream. For many students, the perceived inability to pay for college is the largest barrier to enrolling and completing postsecondary education. Yet last year about 6,000 low-income high school seniors in Dallas County didn’t file a FAFSA, meaning they had no access to state or federal aid to help them go to college. “When you’re asking a junior or senior to start thinking about college, you’re not asking them to fill out an application... you’re asking them to overcome their fears,” shared Jesse during the recent Community Achievement Scorecard Release. Mentors and counselors pushed Jesse through the fear standing between him and his dreams. This year, he graduated from UT Dallas with a degree in Electrical Engineering and began a career as a Telecommunications Engineer at Nokia Networks in Irving. With input from Jesse and other students, the partners of Commit! mobilized to help nearly 700 additional Dallas County seniors overcome their fears and complete financial aid applications by the 2015 state priority deadline compared to 2014. Together, our partners were able to: Assist over 300 families at five community-wide financial aid workshops; Organize more than 100 organizations donating nearly 600 volunteer hours to assist students in filling out their FAFSA/TASFA forms; Build local capacity by bringing in uAspire, a national leader in financial aid advising, to train 90+ counselors, advisors, and afterschool providers; Share information and resources through, a website for counselors and families that received over 6,000 visitors over three months; Send personalized text messages that offered support to nearly 1,000 seniors and broke down college enrollment tasks into smaller steps; Create grassroots advocacy by supporting 100 high school juniors and seniors to serve as peer-to-peer campus ambassadors for college affordability; and Develop broad college affordability awareness through news coverage on Fox, Univision, KERA, Texas NPR and neighborhood papers like the Dallas Examiner and the Advocate. We are proud to play a part in all the work done by our Postsecondary Attainment partners and are looking forward to 2015-16!

FAFSA/TASFA Workshop: Molina High School

Molina High School, in the heart of the Oak Cliff neighborhood, is home to 2,200 students—mostly Latino—and many dedicated educators. On Saturday, February 21, the building opened its doors to the community and was abuzz with energy from hundreds of students from all grades and their parents learning about the college process. For the past four years, Molina has emphasized financial aid applications as a huge priority for their senior students. Joining forces with the Commit! Partnership, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and a host of college advising organizations and corporate volunteer, Molina was one of six 2015 FAFSA/TASFA workshops open to all North Texas students. Volunteering at Molina was a wonderful experience. As a former college student, I know that the process of applying for financial aid is confusing for anyone, let alone if a student is the first one in their family to navigate the process. The students I encountered were persistent in their desire to forge their own path after high school and their parents were fiercely insistent on their students’ ability to succeed and pursue higher education.

Dallas Hosts National Conference to Increase Postsecondary Attainment

Two weeks ago, Dallas hosted nearly 300 people from across the country, all working to increase college attainment rates as part of Lumina Foundation’s efforts to reach 60% college attainment by 2025. Dallas is one of 75 communities receiving targeted financial and technical assistance to help develop and implement region-specific approaches to reaching local postsecondary goals under the Foundation’s Community Partnership for Attainment. The conference featured community voices from multiple sectors- including Workforce Boards, 2- and 4-year colleges, and regional chambers- coming together to discuss their efforts to reach their local goals. We had a range of sessions, including:

  • Building major college access campaigns to help seniors take the necessary steps to enroll in postsecondary education
  • Building Pathways to Strong Sub-baccalaureate Credentials that propel students to completion in well-paying jobs requiring credentials such as certificates and Associate’s degrees, including middle-skill STEM
  • Mobilizing a Community Partnership Approach to Serve Veterans using systemic strategies for serving veteran students in CPA communities across the country
  • Shaping a Culture of Success for Males of Color: The Student African American Brotherhood has created collaborative efforts to increase retention, persistence, and character development among African-American and Latino males. For the complete convening agenda and session presentations, please visit: