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 60×30 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 education which is an important factor within a district where 87% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.
  • Based in part on Partnership data, Dallas ISD and DCCCD identified eight high schools to base new early college programs starting in the Fall of 2016–schools where the six-year college completion rate for the Class of 2009 was 13%, trailing both the District and the County.
  • Each school was preparing for an initial 9th grade cohort of 100 students, while adding one grade per year until up to 3,200 students are enrolled in these programs across the eight schools. Due to incredibly high interest, the district has already received over 1,950 applications has has accepted just shy of 1,000 students, increasing the size of cohort 1 substantially.

*Based on National Student Clearinghouse Dallas County district reports for high school graduating class of 2009 for Lassiter Middle College and Class of 2010 for Garza ECHS. Only using data from Early College High Schools with at least 5 years’ post-graduation from the initial class.

What This Initiative Could Mean:

Dallas ISD sees transformative potential in this initiative. To place into perspective the transformational value such an initiative will have on both current and future high school students in Dallas ISD, note that 192 graduates from the entire Class of 2009 for these eight high schools completed a two or four-year degree within six years following their graduation, while almost 1,300 students did not complete.

  • If only 50% of each annual cohort (50 students per campus, or 400 in total) ultimately graduate high school with an Associate degree, the subject program will more than double the postsecondary completers within these eight high schools BEFORE accounting for any postsecondary graduates from the remaining high school class who attend the normal comprehensive program.
  • Equally important, as these high schools represent such a significant component of the current student population within Dallas ISD that is not completing a postsecondary education, achievement at the 50% college completion level for this cohort would increase Dallas ISD’s overall college completion population by 60%+ annually across the district.

Potential Corporate Partnership Opportunities:

While this joint initiative between Dallas ISD and DCCCD will afford increased academic opportunities for the students at each of the early college high schools, there will also be targeted opportunities for real-world job experiences and mentorships for the students at one of the high schools. Seagoville High School will represent the first P-Tech high school in state of Texas through its industry partnership with AT&T, who was motivated by Commit Partnership data, significant investment by DISD/DCCCD and its strong desire to help grow its own mid-skills workforce pipeline.

Students participating in Seagoville High School’s partnership with AT&T will not only benefit from industry mentorships and summer internships, but will also represent a preferred pipeline for mid-skills job interviews at AT&T. It is DISD’s and DCCCD’s hope that other industry partners can be identified for other early college programs located throughout the region.

Editor’s Note:

The above charts are merely illustrative of the guiding principle of the Commit! Partnership—that by using data, identifying best practices, and working together to spread what works we can help all students in our region flourish. Each campus or district highlighted above has a story behind the data—of great teaching, leadership, parent engagement, partnerships, or otherwise—we can all learn from.

As we continue to analyze data and collect stories of impact, please do not hesitate to connect with us, share your story, or join the Partnership.

To learn more about best practices across Dallas County as they are published, follow the Commit! Partnership on both Twitter and on Facebook.