Partnership working to create college pathway

Making a promise to all graduates of high schools in the Permian Basin that they can go to and through college — and how to do that — was the main item of discussion at the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin Zoom meeting Tuesday.

Partnership co-chair Collin Sewell said it would make a huge impact on the region to offer that chance to students and families.

He noted that other states and regions have done this.

“In a region that has such a drastic need for great education for our young people, I can think of no better way that we could put an exclamation mark on our commitment to education than to consider the opportunity of providing college education for anybody and everybody in the Permian Basin,” Sewell said.

He added that it would have an impact when recruiting people to come to the area and that it would have a ripple effect in that it would benefit those moving to the community and pay dividends for their children.

“… I know that there have been pockets of those situations in Midland. There are different scholarships that are out there, but to be able to say as a region that this is possible for children I think could really be a true change in what Midland-Odessa looks like and what the Permian Basin looks like going forward,” he said.

Eric Ban, executive director of Economic Mobility Systems, is connected to the Commit Partnership in Dallas, Executive Director of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin Adrian Vega said.

Ban said there is “clearly a gap in the postsecondary skills talent in the region … on college enrollment.”

He said counties in the Permian Basin are below the state average of 51.2 percent of students attending college after high school.

Ban said there are a lot of dollars on the table that are not being used.

“And if you look at the financial aid forms that were not completed and if you look at the House Bill 3 CCMR (College, Career and Military Readiness) outcomes bonus that was not pulled down and realized in the year that’s quite a bit of money that’s out there … If we had a plan we could leverage existing dollars to help pay for that plan.”

Ban said they started Dallas County Promise in 2017 and built “a lot of data infrastructure and some strategies based on the Tennessee Promise in terms of mobilizing our community, increasing financial aid completion, increasing college enrollment and then looking at data over time to understand student needs as they travel though higher education to help ensure that there’s wraparound support services (and) workforce alignment driving toward equitable outcomes.”

Ban said Texas has the third lowest community college tuition in the country, but six out of 10 Texans are economically disadvantaged and mostly qualify for federal financial aid.

“So for Dallas County, for example, three out of four students are economically disadvantaged. They’ve had a free college path for a long time, if we can get their financial aid complete which was a big challenge … We have a lot of budget planning tools and we work with higher ed partners and really kind of cost model out what they have in their foundations, what their scholarship strategies are, what if we increase financial aid, what if we potentially worked with k-12. This is a new one because we’re starting to work with Tyler, Sherman and Denton on what if we could leverage those House Bill 3 dollars together and what if we put that in front of the students in terms of gamification so that the students can pull down some of those House Bill 3 dollars and carry it with them to the public institutions in their region to offset some of the scholarships,” Ban said.

Sewell said it’s not a question of whether dollars are available. It’s helping students understand how to access it and walk them through the process.

Lorraine Perryman, co-chair of the Education Partnership, said she knows Ector County ISD and she assumed other districts in the region don’t have an adequate number of advisors/counselors.

She added that some families don’t emphasize going to college. Perryman said they want to change that and added that a lot of that comes through advising and asked what the idea ratio would be of students to counselor.

Ban said there is more than $22 million in outcomes bonus money available.

“… If you look at the ratios, being a former high school principal for many years the ratio … that is optimal is 250-1 in terms of counselor to student. I know we don’t often look like that in public high schools,” Ban said.

Bridget Worley, executive director of the Texas Impact Network, said training is crucial for counselors.

“You can’t just fill positions with bodies. The training for the current advisors and new advisors is incredibly important, but I’ll also just throw in the public funding that is coming in from the federal government right now in terms of ESSER and ARP, Texas is in a very lucky situation and where everyone else may be facing a potential fiscal cliff with the federal dollars because they will disappear at some point but because of the outcomes based funding in the CCMR space, effective use of those dollars could actually generate revenue that could continue to pay for things …,” Worley said.

“Because of the way outcomes based funding works, if you are putting in place individuals and training that is producing more students who are graduating college ready and successfully transitioning to postsecondary, they will produce funding somewhere between $3,000 and $7,000 per student which goes back into the system and pay for those counselors.”

ECISD Associate Director of Curriculum and Instruction Lilia Nanez said the district has nine vacancies, “which is quite big and alarming.”

Nanez said they talk about growing their own, but the vacancies are immediate.

“ … So this network together will really help us create interest, create opportunity for teachers to go get their master’s for counseling because it sounds great to have 250 case loads for a counselor, but that’s just not our reality. So working with this group and coming up with ways that we can recruit people to earn that master’s degree is something we are definitely interested (in),” Nanez said.

Sewell suggested that community colleges and universities could deploy their own people to the school districts.

“… I do think that’s something that we should consider from our higher ed partners and … I do not believe that you have to have a PhD to help a young person figure out how to go to college and we may need to challenge our norms on what our expectations are for those roles when it comes to college advising. I’m not talking about the counselor role as a whole, but if we think about the function of somebody being able to help sit down and go through the process of college we may need to rethink some of our norms and that might help open up some of those places; not to diminish the effort, the work or the education; that’s not what I’m saying, but we may have to rethink that just like we’ve had to think how we train and develop teachers to be able to fill that pipeline as well,” Sewell said.

A future meeting to determine next steps will be scheduled.