Working Together to Unlock Potential

How the DRC partners with higher education leaders.

It’s 7:30 a.m. on a cold fall morning. The university presidents and chancellors of the largest regional colleges and universities in Dallas-Fort Worth sit in a meeting room at the Dallas Regional Chamber (DRC). It’s one of the quarterly meetings of the University CEO Council, a council facilitated by the DRC that brings together regional higher education leaders to discuss pressing higher education issues in the region and ways to collaborate.

It’s no surprise that when the outgoing chairwoman, Dr. Carine Feyten, chancellor of Texas Woman’s University, arrives, she is greeted with handshakes, smiles and a familiar feeling. DFW higher education leaders not only work together, but they share a strong mutual interest in student success that bonds them beyond their institutions. It’s an energy that is clear in every Council meeting. While during today’s meeting the Council is discussing how to create a regional approach to ease students’ transfer of college credit between institutions, the Council is no stranger to taking on bigger projects. Each year, in partnership with the DRC, the Council collectively weighs in on state legislative issues, participates in a State of Higher Education event with more than 300 business leaders, and finds innovative ways the higher education community and industry can better work together. The inaugural DRC Higher Education Review was the brainchild of the University CEO (UCEO) Council, after DRC members noticed that the full story of higher education in the DFW Region wasn’t being told. “This is higher education in 2020. Working together with current and potential new partners, we are creating the workforce of tomorrow today. The future is now for DFW,” says incoming UCEO Council chair Lesa Roe, chancellor of the University of North Texas System.

The UCEO Council just scratches the surface of collaboration between institutions in DFW. Combined efforts by the region’s institutions of higher education is proof of the priority of partnership.

A Louder Voice at the CAPITOL

As each legislative session begins, the flurry of visitors flooding the capitol advocating for change, opportunity and new policies is unmistakable. DFW higher education institutions are no stranger to this biannual tradition, employing institutional government relations staff and advisors to work with state legislators on higher education funding, research and policy improvements. It became clear, through the UCEO Council, that while each institution’s voice was valued in the capitol, the voice of higher education in DFW would be stronger combined. Initially, the work began as simply drafting a list of priorities that regional higher education and business leaders agreed upon for each session and has grown into a working coalition advocating in Austin under one unified voice. This strategy has paid off for DFW. Their influence in Austin has grown. They have seen improved transfer and articulation policies, increased funding for research and funding for capital building projects on campuses.

Let’s Build This for Everyone

Students, parents and educators have always known the difficulties of students transferring between community colleges and four-year universities. “Trying to navigate what credits transfer, what applies to a degree program and who offers the best scholarships for transfer students is confusing and exhausting,” says DRC senior vice president, education & workforce, Drexell Owusu. “When education leaders can come together to make systems easier for students, businesses also win by getting their talent quicker and with less student debt.” The issue of transfer and articulation has taken on the best of collaboration in the region, including a formal consortia, legislative advocacy and advances in technology.

Created more than a decade ago, the North Texas Community College Consortium’s mission is to provide high-quality, low-cost, close-to-home professional development opportunities for its community college members. What started as a regional networking organization has grown into the creation of the North Texas Regional Transfer Collaborative. The collaborative brings together community colleges and public and private universities across the region to create common templates and guided pathways for students to use in the college advising process. The consortium was the first in the region with diverse institutions coming together and agreeing on pathways for students, making it easier for students to complete college and enter the workforce.

Best Practices, Best Outcomes

“Having time carved out of my month to hear from experts in my field and guest speakers who bring light to the realities of the labor market all while networking with my peers is truly invaluable to my work,” says Keri Burns, director of the University of Texas at Dallas University Career Center. “We understand that we are better together, and applying best practices from other institutions helps all students get a good job after graduation.” Burns is talking about her time with the Metroplex Area Consortium of Career Centers (MAC3), a group of 12 DFW Region community colleges and universities joining forces to enhance career services and job opportunities for students. Since its founding in 1994, MAC3 has held joint job fairs, hosted national conferences, connected with employers for site visits and analyzed labor-market information to better translate the talent connections between students and employers.

The Future of Together

The strength of the DFW Region lies in its diversity — economically, demographically and in higher education offerings. Over the past 10 years, leaders in the region have witnessed the fruits of their labor through collaboration and partnership. Now is the time to look to the future and build on best practices that create optimal outcomes for students, institutions and the workforce. Future projects include a downtown Dallas hub that will physically co-locate K-12, community colleges, four-year universities and businesses to build an innovation center focused on aligning workforce needs and student outcomes; a new blockchain technology that enables student credentials to be sent with a touch of a button; and creating lasting private-public partnerships (3Ps) with multiple institutional partners.

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.