58 students for six months, to find out, really, what was
keeping them from finding and pursuing better outcomes for their families.
This was the external focus Brumbach described,
in action. What they found, she says, was that they’d
been asking the wrong questions all along. They hadn’t
noticed, for instance, that the websites for every college
in the district had different navigation systems. It took
11 steps to enroll online at one college. At another? It
might be four steps.
“We met with the college presidents and they said,
‘Can we ask that navigation be consistent?’” she says.
“In six months, the whole navigation system changed.”
“It put academic advisors in the untenable position that
a student might do better if they went somewhere else, but
he needs to make the class count,” she says. “So you end up
with a catch- 22.”
The solution? The district created a new role: navigators.
These advisors were district specific but college agnostic.
If a pathway to a credential or degree would better serve a
student at a different college, now students would get that
information, and receive help to make the change.
They also discovered the data on poverty, food insecurity and the work outcomes of their students, prompting
the college deciding to make a radical change: “We took
on the role that we must,” she says, “which is to make the
difference in Dallas County.”
A NETWORK OF SOLUTIONS
But it was immediately clear to May and his team that
they couldn’t do it alone. Education is one component of
rising out of poverty and supplying the workforce pipeline
industry requires; but it couldn’t address food insecurity or
transportation issues or the fact that the majority of Dallas
County school kids weren’t going to college.
There were organizations that could do that. To access
them, it required that everyone—college leaders and faculty, grade school administrators, social service groups
and community members themselves—change how they
“Historically, the approach has been to blame someone
else,” says May. “The colleges blamed the high schools for
not having students ready; the high schools blamed the
middle schools, who blamed the elementary schools; and
everyone blamed the parents.”
But May saw a different picture. It wasn’t of discrete,
struggling systems working in orbit around one another.
It was an interdependent network where every entity
helped every other entity support the community.
We can’t do everything, but we can be the anchor in
the network,” he says. “We can be, as individuals and
organizations, reaching out and connecting.”
That is exactly what the district is building, in all
directions. Using square footage as its leverage, May and
his team invited organizations onto campus that hadn’t
been there before: The North Texas Food Bank co-branded
a mobile pantry to visit each campus. A brick-and-mortar
food pantry on campus is coming soon.
They contracted with the Dallas public transit agency
to create a mobile app that they then encouraged students to download and sign up for, so that if they had
transportation problems, they had an immediate way to
get to school and work. In fact, through the DCCCD DART
GoPass program, all credit and continuing education
students have access to free passes on the Dallas Area
Rapid Transit system.
Left: DCCCD Chancellor Joe May meets student life volunteers during the North Texas Food Bank’s mobile food pantry visit. Right: DCCCD nursing students.