Trustee Diana Flores Leads Dallas College Through Institutional Change, COVID-19 Pandemic

Michael Wood, Manager, Education & Workforce

Dallas College, formerly the Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), is a well-known entity in North Texas, having educated nearly three million Dallas Region students since its inception in 1965. Lesser known, however, is the Dallas College Board of Trustees, a body of seven elected officials tasked with governing the institution.

Diana Flores, Vice President of Organizational Development for the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, is one of those seven members. First elected to the Board of Trustees in 1996, Flores also serves as the Board Chair, a position she has held since 2018.

The function of the Dallas College board is akin to that of the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees. Flores and her colleagues are responsible for raising funds for the college and setting an annual budget in alignment with the institution’s mission and strategic priorities.

Flores likens her role as Board Chair to that of a traffic cop, keeping the board and the institution moving when they encounter a bump in the road. Largely, Flores works to create the space and provide her fellow trustees with the data need to build consensus when disagreements arise. Fortunately, she notes, the board is often in alignment.

“The entire Board of Trustees is committed to the mission of Dallas College, to alleviate poverty and transform lives and communities through higher education,” she said.

In support of that mission, Dallas College generates revenue through a property tax levy and its tuition rate – both of which are set by the Board of Trustees. On both fronts, Flores and Dallas College’s leadership have done more with less. The property tax rate has remained steady since 2015, and is lower than the state average for community colleges. The college’s tuition rate is among the lowest in the state, making it one of the most accessible higher education institutions across Texas.

For many Dallas College students, a federal Pell Grant – an aid program available to students with financial needs – will cover the entire cost of tuition. Any gap between a student’s Pell Grant award and tuition is covered through Dallas Promise, a last-dollar scholarship that ensures all students from 57 partner Dallas County high schools can access higher education without experiencing any financial burden.

“We are very deliberate in trying to reach students and families experiencing generational poverty,” said Flores. “That means eliminating barriers for students who thought a college education wasn’t possible for them.”

Another effort to remove obstacles for students came over the summer as Dallas College received official approval for its accreditation as a single higher education institution. Prior to this change, it was a network of seven independently accredited colleges, a structure that unintentionally created barriers for students.

For one, students looking to take courses across multiple DCCCD colleges encountered different enrollment processes at each. Those disparities created unnecessary structural challenges, particularly for first-generation college students who did not have family members to help guide them through the higher education experience. Additionally, a state regulation that requires students receive at least 25% of their course credit from a single institution to attain a degree hurt students taking courses across DCCCD’s multiple colleges.

Recognizing the positive impact accreditation as a single institution would have for its students, the Dallas College Board of Trustees was swift to approve the measure when proposed by Dallas College leadership and appropriate the funding necessary to enact the change.

“It is quite groundbreaking,” Flores said. “You do not typically see institutions of higher education make wholesale change to their structure, but it was a crucial shift designed to meet our strategic priorities.”

The Dallas College Board of Trustees was also quick to address the COVID-19 crisis, approving and deploying $20 million in funding over spring break to cover the costs incurred by the college’s rapid shift to fully virtual learning. Looking ahead, Flores believes Dallas College is well-positioned to help the region recover from the pandemic’s adverse impact on the local economy.

In particular, the Board of Trustees has set strategic priorities related to expanding internship and apprenticeship opportunities for students to build in-demand skills, creating an innovation hub to support small- and medium-sized businesses, and targeting efforts to adapt curriculum offerings to employer needs and emerging skills gaps.

All of that work is made possible through Dallas College’s partnership with employers.

“We receive great support from the business community through programs such as P-TECH, Early College High Schools, and Career Academies,” said Flores. “Those opportunities really help bridge the gap between a student’s graduation and career.”

Employers can also support Dallas College by serving as its “eyes and ears” pertaining to emerging workforce trends. The college leans on an advisory council, made up of partners across a multitude of industries and sectors, to monitor workforce needs and inform new curricular pathways.

“The Dallas College Board of Trustees is very serious about this work,” Flores said. “We are deeply invested in doing everything we can do to make good on our mission to transform the lives of our students and our communities through higher education.”