DALLAS (CBS11) – Taking the question mark out of college.
An innovative plan dubbed Dallas County Promise is offering free tuition to seniors at 31 Dallas County high schools without income or grade point average restrictions. Students who enroll can attend any Dallas County Community College tuition free.
“It was way too good to be true,” says Jaelon Jackson, the senior class president at Cedar Hill High School. “I had a friend who saw it and was like, ‘whoah! Free college’…so he was just amazed.”
Eric Ban, EdD, is the Dallas County Promise managing director. He says skepticism is a common reaction.
“What’s the catch?” he repeats with a laugh. “There is no catch,” said Dr. Ban.
Just a few conditions: Students at eligible high schools must sign up online, complete a federal financial aid form and register for classes by late summer.
“So we need to up the game in Dallas County, we need to simplify the message… we need to reach more students,” said Dr. Ban. “Dallas County needs to be more intentional in developing the talent that’s here.”
The DCCCD Foundation is funding the effort. Some local four-year universities are also providing scholarships to students who are successful, making a debt-free degree a real possibility.
“I think it’ll be smart to stay here at home, get the free tuition and come out of college with not as much debt,” said Cedar Hill senior Simone Shead. Simone wants to eventually attend UT Austin, but says the free tuition is a great incentive, and she’s encouraging her classmates to get on board. “Take the pledge,” says Simone, “it can’t hurt you and it’s a great back up plan if it’s not your first option.”
Senior Morgan Scott, though, had her heart set on getting out of town. “I was like, it’s free tuition but I don’t want to go because it’s community college and I have to stay home with my parents and I do NOT want to do that,” she added with emphasis a a big laugh. Morgan is laughing, in part, because she’s already completed her Dallas County Promise application– having decided that student loan debt is a lot more painful that a couple of extra years with the parents. They, by the way, are thrilled. Morgan has two siblings already in college.
“I thought maybe it was partial, which is not bad,” said her father, Kelvin Scott. “To know it’s completely free and to have the carry over to UNT Dallas and the scholarships from SMU it’s just unbelievable!”
And yes, they’re open to renegotiating curfew.
“I hope so!” added Morgan with another big laugh.
Students who enroll in the program will also be paired with an individual ‘success coach’ to help them navigate the inevitable bumps along the way.