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Students Looking To Cash In On Debt-Free Degree

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - It's been said that a goal, is a dream with a plan. And for thousands of graduating seniors in Dallas County, the offer of a 'debt-free college degree' is a plan that they couldn't pass up.

"I felt so blessed," says Jireh Triana, a senior at Dallas' Sunset High. "I couldn't stop smiling."

Triana is one of about 4,000 students having completed the paperwork required to make good on the 'Dallas County Promise.' The scholarship program is funded by the Dallas County Community College Foundation and debuted in the fall.

To qualify, students were asked to make an online pledge and then complete financial aid paperwork. That's all-- no income or grade point average requirements.

"Many people just think it's too good to be true," says Chancellor Joe May, Dallas County Community College District, when asked about the program's challenges during this first year. "We're removing all catches, we're taking the barriers out of the way. We're making sure all along the way their questions are answered, they're supported, they have coaches, they have mentoring and best of all, they're going to get a college degree."

Dr. May took part in a celebration of students' four year college plans and the 'Dallas County Promise' scholarship program at Adamson High school on Wednesday. The event had music blasting and the upbeat, party tone of student athletes' signing days-- except this one was in support of academics.

"This is really a story about human capital, we need everyone to be contributing in some way." Dr. May says the scholarships will help provide the educated workforce critical to North Texas' economic future-- and the main source of that 'human capital' is in complete agreement.

"Sixty percent of all new jobs will require some kind of credential," says DISD Supt. Michael Hinojosa. "Uunfortunately only about 15 to 20 percent of our kids are getting a credential. This will change that game. It's a game changer."

Dr. Hinojosa says Dallas County Promise "takes away the excuses."

But, the celebrations are just getting underway.

Former Second Lady Jill Biden received a standing ovation as she took the stage at Adamson to congratulate and encourage the graduates. She serves as the honorary chair of the National College Promise Campaign. As a education advocate and community college professor, she also spoke in favor of making education accessible.

"Finances are so tough, a lot of times my students can't afford their books," said Biden when visiting with students in Adamson's Collegiate Academy. Students at the academy earn college credit and will graduate high school having simultaneously earned Associates Degrees.

"It's really tough for them," explained Biden. "When I see my students' struggles I just want to make it better for them because I truly believe that education is the great equalizer."

And that effort starts early.

"Now we have to make sure our kids are prepared to succeed in college because now they have a pathway there," says Superintendent Hinojosa. "It's going to challenge us to do better in getting them college and career ready."

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