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A $3 Million Investment Delivers Academic Opportunities to Thousands of Dallas Students
Dallas County Promise—with the help of JPMorgan Chase—is helping thousands of Dallas students achieve their dream
In 2018, Julio Ruiz was a high school senior in Dallas. He hoped that his strong grades and extracurriculars would lay the groundwork for a path to college, but financial challenges derailed his vision for the future. It looked like higher education might be out of reach.
This situation is not unique, according to a Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board study: In 2017, the year that Dallas County Promise began its work, the board reported that 73 percent of students graduating from Dallas County high schools were not able to receive post-secondary credentials within six years, largely because of financial obstacles. And, without post-secondary education, many students were also effectively barred from accessing livable wages.
That's when Ruiz's college advisor urged him to fill out a simple form that would completely alter his trajectory.
That form connected him with Dallas County Promise (DCP), a program designed to help high school students in the region earn a college degree and secure well-paying jobs. Eradicating financial barriers to college and career success is a central tenet of DCP, and it also includes a scholarship that covers any gap between tuition costs and financial aid at select local colleges.
Through DCP, Ruiz was able to attend community college for two years. He then transferred to Southern Methodist University, where he completed his studies, debt-free. Today, Ruiz is an acquisitions analyst at a real estate investment firm.
“I honestly don't know where I would be today without Dallas County Promise" says Ruiz, a first-generation college graduate.
Widening Access to Education
Through a $3 million investment by JPMorgan Chase, in 2018, DCP was able to expand its reach to support more students like Ruiz. According to DCP, the bank's support enabled the program to jump from serving about 9,000 high school seniors—largely students of color—in 2018 to helping 25,000 seniors in 2023. In the same period, the program expanded from serving 31 high schools with significant economically disadvantaged student populations to 69 high schools across 11 school districts in the metro area.
Back in 2017, when Dallas County Promise started its work, its creators couldn't have predicted its rapid growth. Replicated from a similar program in Tennessee, DCP collaborates with local school districts and colleges under the umbrella of the Commit Partnership, it's fiscal sponsor and an organization focused on widening access to economic and educational opportunity.
“We have a tale of two cities in Dallas, with tremendous economic opportunity and also tremendous poverty," Todd Williams, CEO of the Commit Partnership says.
In addition to affordability, the Commit Partnership identified another challenge students in under-resourced communities face: a lack of meaningful college advising. It wasn't that high school college counselors weren't trying; their caseloads were simply untenable.
Some schools staff just one counselor per 400 or 500 students, explains Todd Williams.
“Imagine that you're a low-income student, or you'll be a first-generation college student, and you have 1/500th of a counselor's time," Williams says. “That's part of what we've tried to address through the Promise."
That's why, in addition to scholarships, DCP offers ongoing text and email support to high school seniors, college and career counseling, assistance filling out state and federal financial aid applications, and mentorship and internship opportunities—regardless of income or GPA.
Building Tools to Accelerate Impact
The funding from JPMorgan Chase also granted Promise administrators the ability to beef up its infrastructure.
“Programmatic success is first and foremost tied to having the right infrastructure. The JPMorgan Chase funds helped build out our real-time case management system, which is an amazingly valuable resource to our partners," Katrina James, managing director of Dallas County Promise says . “At any moment, they can not only see who hasn't filled out an admissions or financial aid application, they can also see any information mismatches that might hinder a student's college enrollment process" says James.
Of the first cohort of seniors in 2018, 2,895 students enrolled in Dallas College, a 64 percent increase from 2017. And 617 students completed their education at Dallas College by 2022, an 80 percent increase from 2021. The cohort will likely achieve an additional $109.6 million in lifetime earnings (assuming $400,000 per associate degree earned). In 2019, the second Promise cohort, should achieve an additional $233.2 million in lifetime earnings.
Using Data and Philanthropy to Drive Policy
In addition to being an inspiration for similar programs now created in 11 regions across Texas, DCP has also moved the needle on policy. Commit Partnership leveraged Promise data to help pass legislation that secured more than $1 billion in new funds for school districts to prepare students for college. The legislation also mandated completion of federal financial aid forms as a graduation requirement for high school seniors. Later, California and Illinois adopted the same requirement.
“Whenever we can, we try to get policies passed so that tremendous gifts like the one we received from JPMorgan Chase are catalytic," says Williams.
Of course, alongside inspiring data and legislative feats, there are quieter, human stories that drive home the power of DCP. For example, last fall, James invited a DCP scholar to talk with the organization's staff about her experience in the program.
“A young woman named Brooklyn got her associate degree from Dallas College and then switched to one of our four-year partners and graduated. She's now in a master's degree program and she's working at City Year," James says.
“She is winning. She is living the dream. She's doing everything that we hope for students," says James. “She said that when she was a junior in high school, she thought that she would be working at a fast-food restaurant for the rest of her life until someone came in and told her about Dallas County Promise. Stories like that — those are the things you wake up for."