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Together, We’re Improving College and Career Readiness in North Texas

When students are prepared to succeed after graduation, our entire community benefits.

May 1, 2023

It’s graduation time across North Texas, as tens of thousands of high schoolers get ready to head to college or join the workforce. Although this milestone brings plenty of excitement, for today’s graduates it’s also a time of anxiety. Facing a tight labor market, rising college tuition and the possibility of a recession, many students understandably feel uncertain about their future.

College and career readiness is an important concept for individual students and for our community as a whole. At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we recognize that to achieve our mission of improving access to education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity—we must make college and career readiness a top priority. That’s why we lead and invest in programs that deliver the knowledge and skills that students need to succeed in life after high school.

Read on to learn more about the importance of college and career readiness, some of our programs that prepare students for the future and ways you can get involved in this important work.

What does college and career readiness mean?

High school graduates are considered college or career ready when they have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed at a two- or four-year college, in technical school, or in a job. This level of preparation doesn’t happen overnight—and it takes the support of teachers, parents and the community.

Research indicates that the seeds of college and career readiness begin from a young age and continue throughout elementary, middle and high school.

“It takes a significant amount of guidance and support for a student to have the knowledge and abilities to succeed after high school,” said Cathy Lee, director of educational career success at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “And it’s not just about parents, teachers and community organizations ensuring children have book smarts. From an early age, students also need to learn about and be exposed to different college and career options, internships, mentorship and other resources that illustrate the various paths they could take after graduation.”

The Importance of College and Career Readiness

As the cost of college tuition rises and the job market fluctuates, it is as important as ever for young people to develop the skills necessary to succeed after high school—and to understand the many different opportunities they have to thrive. Being college- or career-ready has the power to impact the rest of a student’s life, affecting everything from healthcare access and financial stability to overall quality of life.

“We know that when students are empowered with a strong education, they are more likely to go on to achieve financial stability, which also supports a lifetime of good health,” said Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “These three building blocks of opportunity—education, income and health—are the foundation that enables our neighbors in North Texas to thrive.”

The stakes are also high for our community, because college and career readiness directly impacts our region’s workforce and economy.

Local Students Require Support to Truly Thrive

Unfortunately, only about 30% of North Texas students are graduating high school prepared for college or a career. Rates of college readiness are significantly lower for Black (15%) and Latinx (17%) students compared to their white peers (42%).

For many North Texas students, these challenges begin well before high school. Research has shown that students who are both not reading proficiently by third grade and living in poverty are 13 times less likely to graduate from high school on time compared to their proficient, more affluent peers.

This lack of preparedness can have a huge impact on a graduate’s future financial security. Today, 74% of young adults in North Texas don’t earn a living wage. Without that basic level of financial stability, our young neighbors often struggle to pay bills and rent, afford quality health insurance and support their families.

When a large percentage of high school graduates aren’t college- or career-ready, our region feels the effects. Today 85% of good-paying jobs in North Texas require education beyond a high school diploma, but only 30% of local students are prepared for college or career training that will qualify them for these jobs.

For our region to continue its economic success, it needs a skilled workforce that is prepared for the jobs and demands of today’s global economy. And the workforce must include a steady pipeline of qualified workers for our most in-demand careers, such as those in healthcare, IT and construction.

To ensure local students are prepared to succeed in college or a career—and to ensure students of color receive equitable opportunity—we as a community must invest in initiatives that give young students a strong start in school, better prepare graduates to earn a living wage and help build a more diverse workforce.

United Way Prepares Students to Succeed

Part of our work to improve access to education, income and health involves creating and investing in programs that give students strong pathways to financial security, while also enabling young adults to get and keep better jobs.

One of our Aspire United 2030 goals—our 10-year roadmap for driving transformational change in North Texas—is to increase by 20% the number of young adults in North Texas who earn a living wage. This type of progress won’t only benefit individuals; it will have an enormous impact on our region’s economy and workforce, adding nearly $800 million in wages every year.

Understandably, most students don’t intuitively know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. At such a young age, they need exposure and access to the relevant skills, experience and connections that will equip them for a living wage job with career advancement—helping to ensure long-term financial stability and economic mobility.

“Our programs and partnerships take a holistic approach that enables students to prepare academically, develop social and emotional skills to ensure well-being, and connect with mentors and resources so they graduate ready for the professional workplace,” said Greg Mangum, vice president of economic mobility at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “

A variety of United Way initiatives directly impact college and career readiness, including:

  • Digital Connections, a partnership with AT&T, which provides families in Southern Dallas neighborhoods with free laptops, digital literacy training and technology support, encouraging students to engage in online learning and setting them up for success in today’s digital school and job environments.
  • Dollars for College, a partnership with Communities Foundation of Texas, which provides easy, low-cost college savings accounts for low-income North Texans, significantly increasing the odds of students attending and completing college.
  • Once Upon a Month™, a partnership with The Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy and Boone Family Foundation that delivers age-appropriate children’s books to children every month to encourage language development and spark a love of reading. (It’s never too early to prepare a child for college or a career; in fact, researchers have found that children reading on grade level by the end of third grade are five times more likely to be college or career ready than their peers who aren’t reading proficiently.)
  • Start Smart Texas, a free text service that gives busy parents the tools they need to be confident first teachers for their children, including information on child development, social-emotional learning and other skills that help them succeed in preschool, kindergarten and early grades.

Two Ways to Support College and Career Readiness in North Texas

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas invites all of North Texas to work together to support college and career readiness, both during graduation season and throughout the year.

  • Volunteer: This May, we have two volunteer opportunities that directly encourage college and career readiness, including a career attire drive and a networking event for high schoolers. Sign up here.
  • Invest in lasting change: Make a donation to United Way of Metropolitan Dallas to support initiatives that encourage student success at every grade level, prepare high schoolers for life after graduation and expose young workers to career opportunities. For example, a $50 contribution to Dollars for College seed one college savings account for a local student, opening the door to college success, better job opportunities and greater economic mobility. Click here to make your donation now.

Be Part of the Change

Together, we’re improving access to education, income and health so all North Texans can thrive. Join the Live United movement and invest in lasting change today.