Voices

Dallas College Restructure Focuses on Collaborative Partnerships for the Future of Higher Ed

“Our students don’t really want to enroll in college, they want to enroll in a job," Dr. Joe May of Dallas College said. Here are takeaways from a discussion on the college's restructure and its renovation plans spurred by a billion-dollar bond fund.

On March 17, after 54 years as a seven-college district that educated three million students across the Dallas Region, Dallas College Chancellor Dr. Joe May led a rebrand and organizational restructure of the Dallas County Community College District that would bring the region’s higher education system into the future.

May said the decision was simple and motivated by the need to collaborate more at every level.

“When we looked at the changes in the economy, the changes in the workforce, and the changes in business, [it] really necessitated a change in how we organized and how we were responding to meet the needs of students, employers, and the community at large,” said May, at a Thursday, September 3 Tomorrow Fund Investors meeting.

Mike Rosa, DRC Senior Vice President of Economic Development, moderated the virtual DRC discussion with May, which touched on topics ranging from the new Dallas College system, navigating higher education in a pandemic, and renovation plans spurred by a billion-dollar bond fund, including a new downtown campus.

Here are three key takeaways from the discussion on the future of Dallas College’s higher education system and its partnerships from Chancellor Joe May:

Dallas College’s restructure will provide organizational efficiency

A higher education regulation, known as the 25 percent rule, states that to get a degree from a college or university, a student must complete 25 percent of coursework from a single institution. The regulation in a seven-college district, in a sprawling and quickly growing region such as North Texas, hurt students who moved around the region and attended different campuses for coursework.

May said the regulation created a barrier to a degree for thousands of students every year.

“I made the decision to consolidate to Dallas College literally, probably within a two-hour time period. Our hope is to do good; our hope is to produce an educated workforce and give people the credentials they need,” he said. “Once our own structure was in the way, we moved quickly and transitioned to Dallas College.”

Dallas College is now a single college serving 165,000 students across Dallas County and the North Texas region.

“We knew that the consolidation would reveal a couple of things, like gaps in the organization services at the programmatic level and in customer service. We also suspected that there were overlaps because we didn’t need seven of everything,” he said.

During a pandemic, the restructure and reorganization of Dallas College was accelerated with a renewed focus on reinvesting dollars in student services. Dallas College’s delivery of programs and services looks very different today because of the pandemic and reorganization, May said.

“We particularly learned in this remote environment that we need more people engaging with students, helping them plan their future, and the careers they want to go into.” May said. “A move to greater organization efficiency and structure has been brought about by the consolidation.”

While the pandemic and restructure exposed the digital divide for students in the community and inefficiencies, May said the college quickly transitioned and adapted to online learning platforms.

In about four days, Dallas College moved 15,000 in-person courses online, which is about 82,000 credit students, and about another 20,000 workforce and non-credit students. The college distributed hot spots to students who needed online connectivity, trained faculty to prepare for online teaching, and is predominantly online this fall with 10,000 students in 17,000 courses.

“The crisis in many ways here, we realized, was not a new crisis,” May said. “The pandemic exposed the lack of equity and opportunity within our community. I think if we ever doubted it, it came through loud and clear when we saw students struggling with access to high-speed internet and broadband.”

$1.1 billion bond will drive growth, downtown innovation, entrepreneurship

“This is about making an investment for the future of Dallas, Dallas County, and the entire region by making sure that we were putting into place the types of programs and services that are needed in the future,” May said.

The $1.1 billion bond package approved by seven million voters in May—a 71 percent voter approval—is currently making its way through court in an election lawsuit.

While the college can’t access bond funds until the lawsuit is settled, May said Dallas College has self-funded and bridged a financing gap to begin four emergency projects from the bond. May said many education facilities around the region are outdated, initially built in the 1960s and 70s, and lacking investment.

While major funds will support facilities across the Dallas Region, May said the most exciting aspect of the bond fund are the plans for Downtown Dallas, which include a relocation and consolidation of administrative offices to downtown, a focus on programs in health care and technology that align with emerging business needs, and the creation of an engaged college campus.

“While we’ve had a presence in Downtown Dallas since 1965, we are in facilities that limit our ability to respond as the economy changed and limited our ability to expand and grow,” May said. “When it comes to academic facilities, we have to have the ability to move 10,000-plus students in 10-minute blocks of time as they change classes. That means a building built for business purposes just simply doesn’t work because the elevators aren’t designed to move 10,000 people in 10 minutes.”

Dallas College is focused on creating a downtown campus geared for the future with a plan to build a 250,000-square-foot facility to better support small business, innovation, and entrepreneurship programs currently housed at the Bill J. Priest Institute.

“We have been limited for 50 years plus at El Centro with the ability to change, modify programs, to update, and lack of flexibility in the structures because some of the buildings are historic buildings,” he said.

Collaboration is Key

“While the needs existed before COVID, it has become crystal clear that so many of our students depended on us for more than just the courses,” May said. “We’ve realized that our responsibility must increase if we are going to hit our goal of getting 65 percent of the population to obtain a post-secondary credential.”

Dallas College has made partnerships the core of its programmatic work centered K-12 collaboration, including working with 53 high schools. Dallas Independent School District will have 10,000 students taking Dallas College courses this fall.

“Our students don’t really want to enroll in college, they want to enroll in a job. That is really what they are looking for when they come to us,” he said.

The path from K-12 to community college education to work is one littered with many barriers, challenges, and unknowns. The key to success is stronger collaboration and partnerships with employers so students understand what job opportunities exist and what skills are needed before completing a program, he said.

“The skills gap is already underway because AI, automation, and other [technologies] are going to leave a lot of people behind,” May said. “What we really have to focus on is how to keep [students] with the knowledge, skillsAI, automation, and the ability to keep them employed in today’s economy and every new economy that is going to occur over the next several years.”

Dallas College’s budding partnerships make it an industry leader on the national community college stage. Certification First, a six-month industry-based certification program, is one of the first of its kind, providing certifications in programs such as Salesforce or Goggle IT Professional Support Certification. Dallas College has also seen significant growth in its internship programs, and it is one of largest providers of health care program apprenticeships in the nation, with apprenticeships in 51 different health care arenas. Additionally, Dallas College works with 14,000 small businesses a year through partnerships with the Dallas Mayor’s Office, Dallas Citizens Council, and others, and it is equipped with a labor market intelligence center that provides in-depth analysis of Dallas Region jobs and skills.

“I think if there’s anything as a community that we need your help in, we realize that we can’t do the work we do alone.” May said. “If we are ever trying to do this alone, then we will miss the mark.”

A version of this story first appeared on the Dallas Regional Chamber site. Dallas Innovates is a collaboration of D Magazine Partners and the Dallas Regional Chamber.

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