College Knowledge Tip #10: Keep Students Engaged Between Graduation and Starting College

Dallas Partnership Uses Text Messaging to Bridge the “Summer Melt”

Sarah Jensen

Sarah Jensen, Deputy Director of College Access, Commit! Partnership

This summer we wrapped up our Partnership’s successful efforts to boost financial aid applications – 650 more Dallas County seniors completed the FAFSA by Texas’ March 2015 priority deadline than last year, ensuring that more low-income students receive aid to support college enrollment.

However, the summer after high school graduation can also be difficult to navigate, as graduates don’t have access to their counselor and are not yet connected to a college campus. Even after being accepted to college, many students face hurdles enrolling in college. With these challenges, many Dallas County seniors fall off track, or “melt,” at some point during their senior year or during the summer and do not enroll in any postsecondary program.

To address this “summer melt” period in Dallas County, four school districts, 11 colleges and AT&T teamed up to launch a texting service based on national research that allowed students to receive reminders on college enrollment milestones and text back to counselors or higher education staff.

While postsecondary enrollment results won’t be available until early 2016, here are some early findings and lessons learned:

Early Findings:

  • 1,041 high school seniors opted in to participate
  • Over 70% of participating students engaged in at least three conversations via text message as a result of the college reminder program
  • Participating students were most likely to respond to messages that asked for a response or messages that asked how they were feeling
  • Financial aid help was the most frequent conversations that occurred on the platform

Lessons Learned:

  • Opening up texting communication channels allowed students a safe place to ask questions of their high school counselors and college staff.
  • Students continue to express trepidation about paying for college, which reinforces the Partnership’s focus on financial aid help.
  • As a result of the text message reminders, districts became aware of summer transcript requests as a significant barrier students face when registering for college classes.

How our program worked:

  1. The Summer Melt Action Network mapped out key deadlines from January through September and wrote a set of pre-scheduled text messages. The network included school district College and Career Readiness Directors, higher education admissions and financial aid staff, and current college students. Commit! staff facilitated meetings, gathered national examples and training, brought AT&T in as a dedicated investor to cover the technology expenses, and is conducting an evaluation to understand what worked well and where improvements can be made.
  2. Seniors opted-in to receive the text message reminders.
  3. Text messages went out automatically about two times a week. Counselors and advisors had the option of also sending their own group texts specific to their campus.
  4. Students texted back when they had questions and engaged in two-way conversations with high school counselors and college advisors who replied through the SignalVine online texting portal.
  5. Once a student made their college decision, their account was transferred to the higher education partner which allowed the student to text directly with their admissions and financial aid representative.

Who we learned from:

The Dallas partners took bits and pieces of texting projects going on nationally and made it our own. Thanks to all the programs who were gracious enough to spend time with us on the phone or in person! We were inspired by and learned from:

We are always happy to share sample documents and/or what we’ve learned! Please feel free to reach out to with any questions or for samples of our Partnership’s work. Visit for all the latest Dallas-area college access and success events, including free financial aid professional development, community FAFSA/TASFA workshops, and open convenings.


About Sarah Jensen

Sarah Jensen has widespread experience as an education advocate and is dedicated to supporting education systems that allow college to be an option for all students.

Prior to joining Commit!, Sarah served as an Admissions Representative for Texas Lutheran University counseling prospective students on admissions and financial aid. As an admissions counselor, Sarah met students with extraordinary potential that didn’t see themselves as college material. This experience led her to devote her career to expanding students’ access to and success in postsecondary education.

Sarah’s previously held positions include Research Analyst for the National Math and Science Initiative and Graduate Intern for The Meadows Foundation. She currently volunteers as a college adviser for Dallas students through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Mentor 2.0 program. Sarah is a proud graduate of LBJ School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas at Austin and Trinity University.



College Knowledge Tip #9: Making A Difference For Students

Christi Khalaf

Christi Khalaf, Executive Director, Tyler Area Business Education Council

Today, more than ever, the complicated process of preparing for higher education is dissuading thousands of students from continuing education beyond high school.  Issues related to standardized tests, financial aid, college applications and scholarships, not to mention planning around work and other life responsibilities, are keeping some of the brightest and most promising minds out of colleges and universities.

It is critical that students have a trusted source of information in the form of a teacher, counselor or coach at their campus or have the ability to access knowledgeable adults via mentorships or through community based organizations.  Not only do students need to be made aware of the courses they need to take and the nuts and bolts of applying for college, but they also need someone to turn to if they are struggling in school and need advice on how to move forward.  In addition, parents are often uninformed about the same topics and would benefit greatly from resources that help connect the dots for them.

The Tyler Area Partnership 4 Education is working to support our area schools by bringing the community into the conversation about college readiness, access and success.  Our action network is comprised of campus leaders such as counselors and principals, as well as leaders of community based organizations, higher education institutions, local scholarship programs and college advising services.

This group is working to make the process easier on families by collaborating and providing community wide events on financial aid, college knowledge and college recruiting.  In addition, in order to connect the “real world” to the educational pursuits being evaluated by the students, efforts are underway to educate students and families about the local workforce and high-wage/high-growth careers.

The key is that students and families have a trusted source of information on campus but also have the option of gaining additional help from within their communities.  It is the responsibility of us all to help equip students with critical knowledge and tools necessary to help them realize they’ve got what it takes!


About Christi Khalaf

Christi Khalaf is the Executive Director of the Tyler Area Business Education Council and has recently launched the Tyler Area Partnership 4 Education to address educational attainment issues in Smith County, Texas.  She has a broad business background, working as a Certified Public Accountant, a small business owner and as a Marketing professional in the technology and grocery industries.  She earned a Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration at the McCombs School at the University of Texas in Austin.  She is a native of Tyler and is actively involved in the community.  She is married and has two daughters.


College Knowledge Tip #8: Provide Guidance and Lessons About Potential Career Opportunities

Dr. Tina Atkins

Dr. Tina Atkins, Administrator, The Center for Excellence in Career and College Readiness, Region One Education Service Center

When I went to college, I had no clue what real jobs were out there in the world, or what people in those jobs did every day.  I had taken no inventory of interests or skills, but I had a number of science classes under my belt from high school.  In fact, I had taken every science class my high school had to offer, more because my father’s background was in science than because I had any real passion for the subject.  Maybe I was interested in science?  I became a science major.

Consequently, I was one of those students who changed majors during college, and it wasn’t until after I graduated, when both my local university and a local private school came literally knocking at my door inviting me to teach, that I found my passion: education.

I had the luxury of being able to switch paths in college, and again later, when I went back for a full course of study in education.  Tuition was relatively inexpensive, I didn’t have to worry about carrying large loans into the future, and there were no (or generous) caps on the numbers of classes that a student could take before maximizing financial aid.

With rising tuition costs and financial aid limits, our students do not have the same luxury I did.

Schools can help students make informed choices regarding their path of study by providing guidance lessons on career opportunities and the appropriate HB5 pathway upon which to embark. It’s no longer enough to tell students that they should go to college; students must understand their own interests and have a solid academic undergirding in order to be successful in the college environment.  By providing students with the opportunity to explore careers and colleges and by guiding them to take the most rigorous classes associated with their interests, schools give them “permission” to not only dream, but to realize those dreams.

With the development of the Center for Excellence in College, Career, and Life Readiness (CECCR), the Region One Education Service Center’s Division of Instruction, School Improvement, and College Readiness Support has committed to doing just that.  Throughout the year, the Center provides a full array of services to administrators, counselors, teachers, parents, and students in order to support student pathways to postsecondary institutions.

The Center focuses on four key areas of impact:

  • Building Leaders at Every Level: Creating a Community of Learners
  • Creating a Culture of Learners: Using Data and Research to Create a Collegiate Culture
  • Developing a College Focus: Providing Direct Services for Parents and Students
  • Creating College Going Communities: Supporting Structures for Students Success.


We want students to be exposed to as many occupations and careers as possible. We have created focused and intentional conferences for students, their parents, and the community regarding careers that require post-secondary education, post-secondary pathways, and the instrumental knowledge needed for students to complete the matriculation process to postsecondary environments.

Direct student and parent supports provided through the CECCR include conferences focused on professions and their educational pathways, financial literacy and financial aid conferences, and training specific to parents focused on college pathways, financial aid, and the admissions processes.  We have established partnerships with businesses, higher education, community-based organizations, and financial institutions in order to provide these services.  Additionally, we have partnered with two television stations to provide weekly messages about college pathways and career opportunities available to students.


We are really excited about the newest initiative just recently introduced to, a college planning platform for students, teachers, counselors, and parents, which includes a Personal Graduation Planner that begins in high school and extends through college to facilitate student college planning, matriculation, and dual enrollment.


It is also essential to lend as much support to teachers and administrators regarding college readiness and career pathways so that teachers can effectively support students and confidently lead them to their next steps. We work toward this end by providing targeted professional development opportunities so educators understand the legislative mandates of college readiness expectations and the availability of programs for students. Examples of these educator focused activities provided by Region One include Collegiate Counselor Academies, CTE Endorsement Institutes, HB5 training and support, and graduation enhancement support for special populations.


I think back to my days in high school when I was trying to determine what I wanted to be “when I grew up” and I speculate at how much easier it would have been had these types of supports been in place. When today’s students look back at their lives, we want them to know definitively that they made the right educational choices and that they had great support systems to help them along the way!


We all want to make a difference in student’s lives—what a better way than starting them on their first steps toward college and career readiness!


About Dr. Tina Atkins

Dr. Tina Atkins has been involved in the field of education for over 30 years. Her experiences range from classroom teacher, education specialist, program director, and department administrator. While all of those titles vary in responsibilities, an underlying belief which has inspired her in each of those capacities is that all students have the ability and potential to enter in and succeed in college.


Dr. Atkins currently serves as the Administrator for the Center for Excellence in Career and College Readiness at the Region One Education Service Center.  In that capacity, she leads the organization’s college access efforts for Deep South Texas, an area that includes 37 school districts and seven charter school systems located along the Texas-Mexico border.  She has had direct oversight of three competitive federally-funded Region One ESC GEAR UP partnerships, which have supported over 25,000 students in 29 school districts. Believing that it does indeed “take a village”, she has been instrumental in bringing together major stakeholders to establish collaborative partnerships with seven college and university systems, numerous businesses, and community-based organizations to support post-secondary efforts in South Texas.


Her proudest accomplishment is having witnessed the doors of opportunity swing open for thousands of students to not only pursue a post-secondary education, but to also witness their success in those endeavors.

College Knowledge Tip #7: Support Families During the College Admission and Financial Aid Processes

Post-secondary education is critical in today’s economy. So much so that estimates say two out of every three jobs will require some form of post-secondary education by 2020. Does Texas have the workforce needed to fill these jobs? No. Not yet, anyway. In fact, here in Dallas County only 34% of our working-age adults currently have a two- or four-year degree. To fill this gap and meet the educational demands of future jobs, community members must work together to support more students as they transition from high school to post-secondary institutions.

The Role of Schools

Kasey Yanna, College Access Coordinator, Dallas ISD

Elementary and secondary schools are the primary communities where future members of the work force receive support related to college and career readiness. That support begins in the classroom with academic instruction and exploration, but that is not where it ends. College and career readiness support extends far beyond the classroom, in places such as after-school student organization meetings, advisory periods, parent meetings, the counseling office, tutoring sessions, and the list goes on. However, there is one increasingly important method of support that ties directly to the number of students attending post-secondary institutions: assistance with college admission and financial aid applications.

Long gone are the days when graduating seniors mailed hand-written college applications to admissions offices with one to two supplemental documents. College applications have moved online and contain 30+ fields for students to complete with biographical, educational, extracurricular, employment and personal information. In addition to the application, many four-year colleges require students to submit several supplemental documents before their applications for admission are considered complete. A typical high school senior applying to a public, four-year Texas university usually has to submit at least one essay, college entrance exam scores, a high school transcript, and an application fee or a fee waiver. And this is just for admission. Institutional scholarships often require additional short and long essays.

Students applying to selective universities have all of the above to look forward to, plus additional short essays, teacher recommendation letters, counselor recommendation forms and letters and more specific college entrance exams such as SAT Subject Tests. Keeping track of these various college application items for one college is a task in and of itself, but when you throw in four or more college applications and scholarship applications, it’s easy to see how high school seniors can become overwhelmed with and discouraged by the application process. Support for students from campus staff who are knowledgeable about various application deadlines, requirements and best practices can make the difference between a student joining the workforce right after high school and a student enrolling into a postsecondary institution.

Once a student completes all of his/her college applications, by the various deadlines, he/she is not off the hook. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) opens in January and is required for students who are seeking federal, state and often institutional financial aid. While several improvements have been made to the online FAFSA over time, meeting the state March 15 deadline can be difficult, especially for low-income families. If a family is unable to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool within the FAFSA, they often have to submit verification forms and tax transcripts, which take time to order, mail and process. Several other delays can arise for students with unique living and/or financial situations, but having support during this process helps ensure that students receive the full amount of financial aid for which they qualify.

Dallas ISD Campus Support

The complexity of college admission and financial aid applications demands campus support for students and their families. In Dallas ISD, where the majority of students will be the first in their families to attend college, administrators realize the need for this type of support and have implemented several programs and partnerships that help monitor students’ progress in completing admission and financial aid applications. The College Access Program staff work in partnership with Counseling Services to assist seniors and their families with each step of the college admission and financial aid processes. The district’s Institutions of Higher Education Partners, including Upward Bound, Go Centers and UT Outreach, also support seniors and with these processes. Seniors enrolled in AVID receive additional support and are required to report their progress on admission and financial aid applications to their AVID teachers.

In order for the staff members of the aforementioned programs to successfully support students and families, they have to keep abreast of the constant changes being made in the college admission and financial aid landscape. Applications, deadlines and requirements change yearly, and postsecondary institutions are constantly developing new programs designed to give students an edge in the job market. Our Dallas County collective impact organization, Commit!, has been a partner in providing professional development by bringing in financial aid experts to help counselors and college advisors stay up-to-date on FAFSA requirements and best practices.

Recommendations for School Communities

To school communities that are looking to increase student support with college admission and financial aid applications, I recommend that you first understand the challenges your students are facing related to this topic. What barriers are keeping your students from completing college admission applications? Often times the issue is not a lack of interest, but rather a lack of knowledge about the process, and the better you understand what a student is going through, the better you can support him/her. Once you are knowledgeable about the various challenges your students are facing, develop tracking methods to be utilized by specific staff members who will be advising seniors. Excel workbooks are free and easy to use along with student folders that contain original copies of transcripts, recommendation letters, fee waivers and other supplemental forms. My third recommendation for school communities is to form or cultivate partnerships with local colleges and organizations that can help you stay up-to-date with changes in college admission. There are plenty of free resources available online as well, including the following:

Big Future

College For All Texans

Generation Texas

College Application Checklist

Parents: Tips To Help Your Child Complete the FAFSA

You Can Afford College


About Kasey Yanna

Kasey Yanna works as the College Access Coordinator in the Dallas Independent School District’s Post-secondary Success department. In this role, Kasey assists with the creation, coordination and evaluation of college access programs and curricula, including the College Access Program on 34 high school campuses, Dual Credit programs, ACT and SAT School Days and college entrance exam preparation programs. Dallas ISD is the second-largest public school district in the state of Texas, and the 14th-largest district in the nation. The school district serves approximately 160,000 students in pre -kindergarten through the 12th grade, in 224 schools, employing nearly 20,000 dedicated professionals.

College Knowledge Tip #6: Start The Conversation Now – Preparing for College Early

Dawn HallWhen should the financial aid conversations begin?

It is crucial to begin talking about financial aid with all 9th graders and their parents. In working with all different types of high schools, the experience with the early college high school applies to all students. This 9th grade year is when the students begin entering high school (including the Early College High School, or ECHS) and they are eager to talk about their future at the institution of high learning. In the initial meetings with the students and parents (all are required to meet with an Administrator and/or a counselor to talk about the expectations of entering  high school and what the student can expect, in return), the issue of financial aid should be introduced.

In the discussion, the Administrator will discuss what a unique opportunity the student has to enter the regular high school where both AP and Dual Enrollment Classes are offered or the ECHS – yes, there is a rigorous curriculum, but in pursuing these opportunities, the student and his family can save up to $24,000 per year or $48,000 total. When this figure is introduced, most of the parents are taken aback as most do not have a college education and are unsure about the costs. This is the time to discuss the tremendous savings and opportunity the student has. Once the parent understands that at the completion of the student’s senior year in the high school if he has taken advantage of all the AP courses and/or dual enrollment courses (or if this is a student at an ECHS, the student is actually a junior at the institution of higher education), then you can begin talking about additional financial aid which will be available. It is essential to stress at this time that when a student completes his college education, his earning power is greatly increased.

Why should high school students start earning college credit early?

It is important to emphasize that most institutions of higher education welcome both the ECHS students and the high school students who have taken a number of AP and/or dual enrollment courses because they have proven that they can master the rigor and that they welcome the challenge that is offered by higher education. These students are focused, challenged and determined to succeed. Thus, Administration can begin telling the students and families about the availability of scholarships. There is a list of scholarships which students received in the prior year and those are listed for the students to see. In Brownsville, all the ECHS have scholarships in the millions of dollars at the end of the year and these ECHS students will be able to apply for these funds.

How do students apply for financial aid?

In addition, financial aid is available. This is best discussed on an individual basis with the student and his family so the family’s financial situation can be kept confidential. The counselors are well-versed in the particulars of the financial aid worksheets and, in fact, make sure that each and every student has the worksheets completed before mid-year of their senior year in high school. The families are part of this as they must submit an IRS form with their earnings on it. Since some families struggle with this, there is a special program here in the Valley at the high schools where trained personnel help the families fill out their tax forms. Again, communication plays a key role. Families need to be reassured that there are programs and staff to help them navigate this entire process successfully and they will not have to do it alone.


About Dawn Hall

After time spent in the private sector in pharmaceutical sales and in real estate, Dawn Hall returned to education to work with at-risk students in Deep South Texas. Dawn Hall has devoted more than 20 years of education experience as a teacher and principal to working with Texas youth. Prior to her current position as principal at Brownsville Learning Academy, she was the principal at Brownsville Early College High School in partnership with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Dawn is committed to the belief that motivated students will prosper best in the rigorous academic environment provided by early college high schools.

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Click HERE to visit the Brownsville Learning Academy Website

College Knowledge Tip #5: Become Familiar with the College Planning Process

Dr. Janice Lombardi

Dr. Janice Lombardi, Principal Trinidad Garza ECHS

What is the importance of first-time families in College Planning?

College knowledge is multi-dimensional and can be daunting to those who have never experienced it.  Although parents who have attended college themselves are likely to understand how to prepare their students for success in college, parents of first time college-goers have to acquaint themselves with a whole new experience – they have to become informed.  This dispensing of information is the role Garza ECHS assumes so that all parents regardless of socio-economic level know the intricacies and expectations of college success.  Our school aims to scaffold the college experience for the entire family, not just the students.

How does Garza ECHS help make it easier for families to do this?

At Garza ECHS, it is important for us to help parents see the benefits of college as a necessary step to future success.  Our school plans at least four Parent Academies each year which include topics such as:   Study Habits for Dual Credit College Courses; Safety and Security on a College Campus; Time Management in High School and College; and Self-Management of Learning.  We have had over 200 parents attend our academies as the parents hunger for information to help their students succeed. All of our sessions are in English and Spanish.

Additionally, there is a full-time, bilingual parent instructor (paraprofessional) on staff who assists parents (who may not speak English) with messaging to accommodate our targeted student population.  Having an instructor available who can translate communications (written and oral) from both the high school and the college lowers the stress level of parents who may have anxiety about something they have not yet experienced.

What advice can you give families to become familiar with college planning?

At Garza ECHS, parents can also use our website to view every teachers’ syllabus/syllabi and they can keep up with events on the web school calendar.  Information is the key to planning for college success!

Families can also be supportive of their early college high school students by becoming familiar with the schools’ online grade book to check grades and progress course tracking.  They can also meet with high school instructors who can assist students with the support systems available to ECHS students such as writing labs, free college tutors, guidance, and academic advising. College can be for everyone!\

About Dr. Janice Lombardi

Dr. Janice Lombardi has been the principal at Trinidad “Trini” Garza Early College High School at Mountain View College since 2009. Her strengths as principal at Garza ECHS include the academic empowerment of students, the development of a positive school culture focused on college success, and the implementation of systems-thinking for discipline, grading, scheduling and interventions. Additionally, she and her team collaborate with Mountain View College on dual credit scheduling and resource sharing for the community. Dr. Lombardi has organized an academic climate (culture of achievement) as a learning leader for teachers and a purveyor of the self-management of learning for students.

Garza ECHS is a partnership between Dallas ISD and Mountain View College. The school’s website can be found at


College Knowledge Tip # 4: Connect Families to Financial Aid Resources to Increase College Access

Dr. Adriana Contreras

Dr. Adriana Contreras Executive Director of the San Antonio Education Partnership (SAEP)

The importance of academic and financial college access outreach programs for parents.

Over the summer, our (the San Antonio Education Partnership) advisors work diligently to contact recent high school graduates and ensure they are prepared for college.  They also follow up with those students eligible for our scholarship and in particular, those who lack fulfilling one or more of the criteria to receive funds.  During one particular telephone call, the advisor informed the student that he only lacked participation in one 1-hour workshop at our facility in order to qualify for our scholarship.  The advisor went on to explain that the workshops were offered during the day, the evening and on Saturdays. The students’ response?  “No thanks, I’m good.”

As Executive Director of the San Antonio Education Partnership (SAEP) and as a parent, that exchange caused much heartache.  I know that the parent or guardian had no idea that in the course of a 5-minute telephone conversation,  the student essentially threw away a 5-year scholarship.   I also know that our efforts to reach parents must be more innovative, deliberate and strategic.

Understanding how vitally important it is to connect with parents, SAEP has implemented a three–pronged approach to reaching this busy group of people.  Gone are the days when a household had a single home phone and a message left was likely to be intercepted by a parent or guardian. That said, we have reverted to a low-tech approach that we have found to be effective:  a postcard addressed to the parent and mailed to the home.  This often results in a higher response rate than email.  We also partnered with our local GEAR UP program to reach more households and share information about our outreach programs.  Lastly, our college access advisors are proactive in reaching out to high school PTA’s, band boosters and other parent groups on campus.  The information, especially regarding scholarships, is always well-received and greatly appreciated by parents.


Understanding the different funding opportunities to pay for college. 

We in the San Antonio area are extremely fortunate that our City has invested in a college access center that offers free workshops to our community.  One of the key services offered at Café College is College Affordability and Financial Aid, where we work to increase awareness by providing information on financial literacy and financial aid resources, and assisting with applying for financial aid and scholarships.  SAEP has also recently partnered with an area bank to offer financial literacy courses for students. The plan is to develop a similar program for parents, both in English and Spanish.  The program focuses on the different funding opportunities to pay for college and dispels the myths that college tuition is completely out of reach.  The workshop identifies resources and it introduces parents to an organization that provides guidance,  assistance and one-on-one support:  the San Antonio Education Partnership.

Although how to pay for college can seem daunting and overwhelming, there are many resources available to assist families.  High school counselors provide a wealth of knowledge in terms of community resources and other organizations such as the College Advising Corps, City Year and Communities in Schools stand ready to serve.

About Dr. Adriana Contreras

Adriana Contreras is Executive Director of the San Antonio Education Partnership (SAEP), a non-profit committed to creating college opportunities, access and success for our community.

Contreras began her career in education at Austin Community College where, as a specialist in the Outreach Office, she developed a passion for higher education and for helping students with the college access process.  She now has over 30 years of administrative experience, holding leadership positions with the Alamo Colleges, Austin Community College and the Austin Independent School District.

Prior to joining SAEP, she held the position of Deputy to the Chancellor at the Alamo Colleges where her responsibilities included strategic planning, policy research, board relations, and budget preparation and implementation.  She has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Northwest Vista College, San Antonio College and UTSA.

Special initiatives led by Contreras include the U.S. Department of Education, Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (Gear Up), where she served as a group facilitator.  She is also a state examiner with the Quality Texas Foundation.

Contreras holds an Associate of Arts degree from Austin Community College and a Bachelor’s in Government, a Master’s of Education in Student Personnel Services, and doctorate in Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin.


San Antonio Education Partnership:

College Knowledge Tip #3: Creating Partnerships to Support College Success

Dr. Lydia Tena, El Passo Community College

Dr. Lydia Tena, El Paso Community College

El Paso Community College (EPCC) believes that all students should be afforded the opportunity to attend an institution of higher education if they so choose. Furthermore, we understand that building and sustaining family, school and community partnerships are vital to student success while they are in high school and once they graduate. We recognize that many students and their families often find that preparing for the rigors of higher education and the transitioning from high school to college is a difficult one, especially for students who are the first in their families to seek post-secondary education.

EPCC currently offers more than 130 academic programs and more that 350 personal enrichment and continuing education courses at our five campuses located throughout El Paso County.  The college also offers cutting-edge technology, ultra-modern training facilities and innovative learning options. Partnerships between EPCC and local school districts help inform parents and advice students on how to succeed in college.  Our partnerships tend to focus support in the following areas:

College ReadinessAs students prepare to take college courses and graduate successfully, they must have the knowledge and skills necessary to qualify for and succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing post-secondary coursework without the need for remediation.  It also involves that students and their families understand that a high school graduate must have studied a rigorous and broad curriculum, grounded in the core academic disciplines, and also consisting of other subjects and learning that are part of a well-rounded education.

College Connections and Enrollment – EPCC works with high schools on programs, such as dual enrollment and Early College High Schools. These programs allow students and their families to make connections and gives them a vision of college matriculations as an option. School Counselors and higher ed advisors also play a major role in assisting students and their families on college planning and career goal setting, organizing student visits to colleges, educating families about the college application and financial aid processes and building a strong communication with higher ed and community partners.

College Persistence and Retention – Students that have high persistence in college, indicate that their college and high schools work together on programs which can smooth students’ transition from high school to college which diminish withdrawal rates especially in the first year.  A few factors that influence persistence and retention include EPCC commitment to serve our students, making connections with their academic and social integration and experiences, providing academic advising, personalizing their college and career goals and offering emotional and financial support.

EPCC will move forward with planning for the future and continue to focus on engagement, partnerships, creating a college-going culture and completion and be the Best Place to Start!

About Dr. Lydia Tena

Dr. Lydia Tena has served as the Northwest Campus Dean at El Paso Community College (EPCC) since 2000 and the Achieving the Dream (AtD) Leader College Liaison since 2006.  During her tenure as the Northwest Campus Dean, she has led the campus growth from 1,200 students to the current enrollment of 3,200 students. She currently serves as the EPCC Early College High School Administrative Liaison and has been involved in the creation of the seven current ECHSs at EPCC and in the El Paso region, as well as the founding administer of the Northwest Early College High School in partnership with the Canutillo Independent School District.

Dr. Tena’s formal education includes a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Texas at El Paso.  She also has a Doctor of Education degree in Educational Administration from New Mexico State University.

College Knowledge Tip #2: The Importance of Creating Higher Expectations for our Youth

Dr. Daniel P. King

by Daniel P. King, Ph. D, Superintendent

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD


In my four decades in education, I have learned that a child is as successful as his support system. Although some exceptions exist, this is true for most students. Sometimes, more often than I wish it were true, children grow up without someone encouraging them every step of the way. That is why we, as a school community, must establish a school climate of high expectations and academic support to reassure our students that despite any obstacles they may face, they are not alone and they have a bright future.


At Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, we challenge our students to graduate on time with college hours, a college certificate or even an Associate’s Degree. We are working to raise expectations and system capacity to enable all students to graduate with a minimum of 12 college hours and to design degree plans aligned to personal goals and school expectations. Our wonderful teachers, counselors and principals give assistance to ensure our students meet and exceed their goals.


As educators, it is our calling to create an environment of high expectations, where failure is not an option. For many of our students, our teachers and counselors are the only support they know. Don’t be afraid to ask them to try to reach the next higher step through their academic journey. Many times, all they need is someone to believe in them.


About Dr. Daniel King

A public school superintendent for 17 years, Dr. Daniel P. King was named the 2013 Texas Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators and was the 2006 Superintendent of the Year for the Texas Association of School Boards. Since July of 2007, he has led the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA). Under his leadership, PSJA has made tremendous progress on some of the most significant challenges that face our state and nation.


Twitter handle: @PSJAISD 

College Knowledge Tip #1: Encouraging The College Going Mindset

KIPP Houston graduation016In less than two weeks, over 1,200 school districts and charters, 8,600 campuses and over 5.1 million (5,151,925) students will kick off the 2015-2016 school year.  School leaders along with their educational partners have worked diligently over the summer to assure that their schools open without a hitch.

I have been fortunate to work with several outstanding Texas school district, college and community leaders throughout my 11 years as program officer at Educate Texas,   Working alongside these leaders, two key aspects that have stood out as best practices in promoting a ‘college going’ mindset include:

High Expectations and Challenging Classes. The College for All attitude and approach will assure that students (especially those students under-represented in higher education) will graduate high school prepared for the rigor of college courses.  Understanding that taking challenging classes while in high school will increase the likelihood that a student will complete high school and enroll in and persist in college.  Every student should take demanding classes in the core subjects of – English, Science, History and Math. Further, students should also be given the opportunity to earn some college credit through dual enrollment, advance placement offered through a local college or university or an industry certification.  These opportunities assure that students complete their college degree earlier thus leading to earlier entrance into the workforce.

Family and Community Involvement.  Students will have a higher rate of success when high schools encourage positive learning relationships among families, educators, businesses and other members of their community.  Parents should be given many opportunities to visit the school building, have meaningful conversations with teachers and staff, express concerns, share point of views, serve as volunteers and vehicles for improving the school. And school leaders should be actively involved by attending community events and forming partnerships with local organizations to gather information, assess issues or concerns and tap into resources available through experts in the community.

About Alma Garcia, Program Officer at Educate Texas

As Program Officer, Alma Garcia leads the development of the Early College High School Initiative in Texas that began in 2004 and today includes over 150 schools across 35 counties and three district-wide initiatives.  As a former principal and college access project director for GEAR UP, she has a deep knowledge of school leadership, instruction, college readiness and access initiatives. Ms. Garcia holds a Master’s in Education Administration from Stephen F. Austin University.