DCCCD chancellor addresses economic trends

Dr. Joe May, chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), held a System Network update for faculty, staff and students to discuss initiatives within the Dallas Community College system regarding the Higher Education Network – and why it matters.

During the Feb. 8 address in Richland’s Fannin Hall, May said the current trends are unlike anything he’s seen in his 40-year career.

“People actually are not liking what higher education is doing,” said May. “There’s the disconnect that we see happening right now between society, individuals, employers and the political environment.”

Texas has fallen behind in workforce education. The Houston Chronicle recently reported that the state is struggling to find the workforce to meet today’s needs.

“When the Dallas Regional Chamber surveyed 2,000 CEOs of companies, what they found was that the No. 1 concern employers had was talent,” said May.

Ninety-nine percent of new jobs created since 2008 require education beyond high school. The statistics are staggering for the current and future economy.

“Sixty percent of jobs by 2030 will require post-secondary education,” May said. “Right now, in Dallas, we have 431,000 individuals that are illiterate.”

May said Dallas has the lowest percentage of adults with a college degree in any urban city in the nation, which affects the lives of about 50 percent of the population. The economy is leaving those people behind.

“The DCCCD way is about caring how a community succeeds,” May said. He emphasized that part of the need for the network is to address student suffering. He said the top request of students is food.

“Our students are hungry. They don’t have the resources for food today,” May said. “Thirty-nine percent of students are missing meals on a regular basis.  Some are missing meals almost on a daily basis.”

May said the goal of the community college system is to prepare individuals for careers, but when they get to college 18 percent of students never finish a single course.

“I believe we can change this direction overall,” he said.  “I believe that that can only happen if we assume leadership to help our students in ways we haven’t done before. If I don’t do it and you don’t do it, we all don’t do it, I don’t know … who will?”

The Higher Education Network is made up of high schools, colleges, universities, employers, nonprofits and individuals who work together to solve the problem.

One part of that initiative is the Dallas County Promise. He said the initiative is not a scholarship – it’s a new trajectory that will change how students attend college.

“The Promise is about one thing and one thing only. It’s about eliminating barriers and removing friction from the process,” May said. “We’ve created one webpage, one site that students can go to and commit to go to college.”

High school students are asked to sign a waiver so DCCCD officials can start communicating with them on a regular basis.

Part of that process involves completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

“There’s one measure that is a better predictor of whether or not a person goes to college,” May said.  “It’s whether or not they complete the FAFSA.  If they complete the FAFSA, they are twice as likely to go to college as the student who does not.”

Students who sign up for the Dallas County Promise pledge to commit to college by submitting a DCCCD application through applytexas.org or at dcccd.edu/apply and then enrolling at one of 31 colleges in the network.

“We want 75 percent of high school students to complete the FAFSA,” May said.  “If we achieve that, we will be No. 1 in the nation in terms of making that happen.”

Once enrolled, students must maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete at least 18 credit hours per academic year to continue to receive tuition benefits.

May said that half of DCCCD students who are prepared to transfer never make the transition to college.

“They, on average, will live a life of poverty,” he said. “Their salaries are the absolute lowest of any of our students. Even if they are in a technical field and drop out without completing, those students actually outearn our students who don’t prepare.”

May said the goal of Dallas Community Colleges is for 60 percent of students to graduate college with a high value certificate or degree within six years.

“We start with the Dallas high schools.  Then we inject the Promise into the program,” May said.  Then it’s possible to tie into a partnership with our Post-Secondary partners.”

The Dallas County Promise Post-Secondary partners are UNT-Dallas, SMU and the DCCCD Foundation.