Dallas County is paving the way for free college. A new business partnership is helping disadvantaged students learn the skills to lift them up to economic security.
It's an investment in area youth that could payoff.
At just 18-years-old, Mitzy Hidalgo knows her future looks bright.
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"My family is very proud of me and my three little brothers are looking up to me,” said Hidalgo, an Early College High School Senior.
She's already earned an associates degree before graduating high school this spring.
Hidalgo's next step? UNT-Dallas for free. It's all thanks to Dallas County Promise.
"For the first time in the history of Dallas County, students have a free tuition pathway through a bachelor's degree,” said Eric Ban, managing director of Dallas County Promise.
The program is nearing the end of its inaugural year. It fosters local talent, often first generation students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
"Our college-going rate is not what it could or should be, so with the promise, we really aspire to have all boats rise,” Ban said.
Dallas County Promise now has the ability to expand. On Monday, JPMorgan Chase announced plans to make a $3 million investment.
"The business community has got to step up to solve this problem,” said Anne Motsenbocker, JPMorgan Chase Managing Director.
At a panel discussion, local business leaders said the tuition promise isn’t a hand-out, it's a hand-up.
The pilot program aims to prepare Dallas students for well-paying jobs in high demand fields like IT and healthcare - and keep them in the DFW area.
Motsenbocker said in the last five years, more than 70 companies have relocated their headquarters to the area. She said, it’s going to take work and a commitment to training homegrown prospects to attract more companies in the future.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings agrees.
“We'll get there. If they sit back, watch out - business is not gonna be so good in the future,” Mayor Rawlings said.
So far, 31 high schools are taking part in the Dallas County Promise program.
In the 2018-2019 school year, there will be 12 more. Eventually all 107 could be on board as a "promise school”. All seven community colleges in Dallas County are involved. UNT-Dallas and SMU were the first universities to offer tuition support, but several more are coming on board according to Ban.