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Pinkston High School sophomore Max Martinez and freshman Ta’Kayla Elder know a good deal when they see one.

Both students in the West Dallas high school are enrolled in a relatively new program to ensure that more students transition from high school to college and ultimately the workforce — ideally solving or at least alleviating the skills gap in North Texas.

“I chose the collegiate academy because it was going to be something new for me and challenge me,” said Martinez, a second-year student in the program.

Collegiate academies are high schools that offer students the opportunity to earn dual credit — credit for both high school courses and college courses. College tuition fees are waived. Students can earn an associate degree or up to 60 hours of college credit at no cost to themselves.

The academies are a group effort between Dallas ISD schools, Dallas County Community College District and corporate partners such as Amazon Web Services, American Airlines, AT&T, Baylor Scott & White Health, Microsoft and Southwest Airlines.

Educational alignment

College courses and other training must better coincide with the needs of a fast changing economy to be relevant for students and for employers, said Joe May, chancellor of Dallas County Community College District.

To achieve that, DCCCD schools bring together industry groups and dive deep into companies’ business models to learn the skills that employers need, May said. The district launches new programs based on businesses’ needs, he said. The collegiate academies are an example.

“We’re making sure we are aligning our programs with what’s happening here in our community, which means (students) getting jobs,” May said. “If they are not getting jobs, then we’re not focusing on the right areas.”

Students at the academies choose “pathways,” such as software programming, allied health or business administration, designed to lead to high-paying career opportunities. “The pathways align with existing and sustained-need jobs,” said Thom Chesney, president of Brookhaven College and a spearheader of the early college program. “We’re striving to provide the workforce of tomorrow with the population of today by closing the skills gap and narrowing income disparity with people who are already here — less dependence on an imported workforce.”

Martinez and Elder are on the information technology pathway.

“I chose IT because there’s not a lot of women in IT,” Elder said. “And because I really love it.”

For students, the collegiate academies mean two years of accelerated timelines and busy schedules on their high school campus, where they will complete their basic courses and receive in-depth instruction to prepare them for college success.

Then, they’re sent to the campus of the high school’s partner community college where they will continue their studies until graduation.

The program has grown rapidly within DISD. It started with five academies in 2015 and has grown to more than 20 today.

Collegiate academies are part of a patchwork of programs that take aim at the skills gap in North Texas.

Year Up

In another DCCCD partnership, North Texas companies including AT&T, Bank of America, Bell Helicopter and JPMorgan Chase are tapping into the “Year Up” program at El Centro College for mid-skill employees.

Students receive six months of intensive in-classroom skills training and are guaranteed six months of work experience through an internship at a DFW company. Students learn skills like programming and financial operations, among others. The program is free to students through a mix of Pell grants and Year Up funding.

Corporate partners invest about $25,000 in Year Up for each intern they host. The sponsors work closely with Year Up to make sure that programs are geared directly toward open positions that are hardest to fill, said Snyder, executive director of the group.

Many interns stay on full-time with the company or continue their education, building on the 30 to 36 credit hours they earn during Year Up. Within four months of graduating from the program, 95 percent of the Year Up participants in Dallas are either employed and earning at least $35,000 a year, or have re-enrolled in college as a full-time student, Snyder said.

In DFW, students entering Year Up make an average of $7,800 a year, and the program’s graduates earn an average of $44,000 just one year later, Snyder said.

Year Up also helps level the playing field for young adults who face financial and other barriers to education, he said.

“When students come into the program, we know that they have talent,” he said. “Our program allows it to become unlocked and flourish.”

Year Up DFW has served 144 young adults since it started in August 2016, and the number will rise to 626 students by 2019. To date, Year Up DFW has raised about $5 million in sponsorships. The nonprofit has brought in an additional $4.3 million in philanthropic funds.

The program also works with employers to make sure their job requirements — and expectations — are realistic, Snyder said. Job descriptions for mid-skill spots, for example, typically should not specify that a four-year college degree is required, he said.

“As soon as you add that,” Snyder said, “you eliminate your pool of candidates for filling those positions.”

The Fellowship Initiative

Another skills gap initiative launched this month in Dallas seeks to help boost opportunities for young men of color by engaging them in a comprehensive, hands-on program that includes academic support, college access, leadership development and mentoring at a critical juncture in their lives.

The Fellowship Initiative pairs every student participant with a JPMorgan Chase employee who serves as his mentor for three years.

Nearly one in three children in Dallas are living in poverty — the highest child poverty rate of any U.S. city larger than 1 million people.

And in Dallas, as is the case nationwide, graduation rates for young men of color are persistently lower than their peers’. Many who do graduate lack the skills they need to be successful in college or their careers, said Peter Muriungi, who works in the JPMorgan Chase office in Dallas and heads mortgage servicing nationally.

“Over the past couple of decades, we’ve seen fantastic economic growth,” Muriungi said. “But there are concentrations of certain economic communities that have not had the benefit of participating in that growth. Part of that is because the youth in those vulnerable communities did not have access to the kind of life skills, academic skills and mentorship that it takes to allow them to be successful.”

The financial giant is working with Dallas-based nonprofit Big Thought on the initiative. On Nov. 6, the first TFI class was introduced. The class of more than 30 young men was recruited from across Dallas-Fort Worth, with emphasis given to schools in economically challenged areas of Dallas.

Dallas is the fourth city in which the program has been rolled out. Year Up is already in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

In addition to the big skills gap in North Texas, Dallas was chosen because it has a large school district, lots of poverty, and because JPMorgan Chase has a large employee base in North Texas from which to draw volunteers, said Linda Rodriguez, the program officer for Youth Opportunities at JPMorgan Chase & Co., and head of The Fellowship Initiative.

“Part of the reason why we (JPMorgan Chase) have done so much work in workforce development is because as an employer we understand business needs, and we understand that we really need to nurture talent,” she said.

The more that DFW can grow its own talented workforce, the less employers have to recruit from outside the area, said Ed Meier, interim executive director at Big Thought.

“What we’ve heard from employers and corporations that we partner with is that they’re looking for those social and emotional skills and knowledge and attitudes in order to be successful in the workplace” Meier said. “At Big Thought, we are increasing our emphasis around those skills like grit, leadership, resilience — the kind of skills that are really necessary to be successful in the workforce.”

The Fellowship Initiative has shown big results nationally. Some 117 students have completed the program in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Collectively, they were accepted into more than 200 colleges and universities across the country and received over $20 million in scholarships and aid.

What are collegiate academies?

Collegiate academies are high schools that offer students the opportunity to earn dual credit — credit for both high school courses and college courses. College tuition fees are waived. Students can earn an associate degree or up to 60 hours of college credit, tuition free.

Students attend ninth and 10th grade on the high school campus, where they will complete their basic courses and receive in-depth instruction to prepare them for college success. In their junior year, students receive free transportation to attend tuition-free classes on the campus of their community college partner where they will continue their studies until graduation.

Read the sampling of the offerings at five of the more than 20 Dallas Independent School District collegiate academies and read the article online here.