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Back on Track to College: A Texas School District Leverages State Policy to Put Dropouts on the Path to Success

Lili Allen and Rebecca E. Wolfe

In the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District has achieved a startling success over the last two years: it has recovered and graduated over 600 dropouts and put them on a clear pathway to college. Just a few years ago, low graduation rates, struggling high schools, and poor staff and student morale characterized this predominantly Hispanic and low-income tri-city community. Since then, the dropout rate has plummeted and the graduation rate is rising steadily. Under the leadership of Dr. Daniel King, Pharr-San Juan-Alamo illustrates how Texas districts can use innovative state policy to improve graduation rates by reengaging and graduating out-of-school youth.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo teamed up with South Texas College to create the College, Career, and Technology Academy (CCTA), a college-connected dropout recovery school that puts into action policies Texas has created over the past five years. Through CCTA, former dropouts complete their high school diploma and seamlessly transition into college courses when they are ready. The design is both effective and efficient. Students focus only on what they need for graduation and for college-readiness, and they begin college courses while finishing their high school requirements.

Texas policies that encourage districts to recover dropouts, provide state funding for students who are over compulsory school age, and promote college-connectedness for students still in high school created the environment for a successful back-on-track program, like CCTA. This case study spotlights how the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District has leveraged policies and conditions that the Texas Legislature put into place and achieved extraordinary outcomes in not only graduating students but also in facilitating smooth transitions to postsecondary education and training.

JFF has conducted a 50-state scan to identify schools and programs that integrate high school and college for the population of youth who either fall off track to graduation or who drop out altogether. Our scan has identified CCTA as an effective design with compelling outcomes, worthy of replication throughout Texas and nationally.

  • Download JFF's 50-state dropout policy scan by clicking HERE.
  • Find your state's progress on dropout policy by clicking on our interactive WEB TOOL.