Innovative local programs help students graduate on time and with less debt

By Scott McClanahan, Ed.D.

In the spring of my senior year, I noticed a trend amongst my classmates: they were all discussing college incessantly. I, however, was not. As the son of a factory worker and a retail sales clerk (neither of whom attended college), I was not having those discussions at my house.  I had not met with my guidance counselor for college advice nor had I been approached by any outside entity to help me navigate the college process. My sole source of information was the copious college propaganda that arrived in the mail each day. Impressed by beautiful pictures, stories of campus activities, and lists of amazing opportunities available at the various institutions, I tried to determine where to go, even though I knew my family did not have the financial resources for me to attend. It was not until April of my senior year that I decided on a state school 90 minutes from home; however, by that time, the dorms were full nor had I been awarded financial aid, forcing my parents and me to navigate the worlds of off-campus housing, financial aid, payment plans, and books on our own.

But that was 30 years ago.  And we hope — for the large majority of today’s students — circumstances are different.  However, an occasional student still moves through the high school system and never receives the message that college is both valuable and available, despite any hardships possessed.

As President of the Heart of Texas P-20 Council, I can confidently state that administrators around the region sponsor fantastic College Readiness programs to assist their students: college and career fairs to motivate students to pursue higher education, college testing (such as ACT, SAT, and ASVAB) preparation that opens opportunities at higher education institutions or in the military, and specialized career preparation classes. From rigorous Career and Technical Education programs, to Advanced Placement and Dual Credit course offerings, to Early College High Schools and early degree programs, our region is leading the charge to impact every student. Today’s local students find it increasingly more difficult to make it through to high school graduation without ever hearing about college, without receiving information about paths to college, or without their post-graduation plans being questioned (usually multiple times).

These conversations are part of our region’s efforts to meet the requirements of the State of Texas’s 60x30TX initiative, an enterprise to keep Texans competitive in the global economy. The 60x30TX initiative has four goals: increase the education level of Texas’s 25 to 34-year-old population; increase degree completion levels at Texas community colleges and universities; increase the marketable skills possessed by high school graduates; and decrease the amount of student debt accrued by college graduates. The state’s fifteen-year strategic plan encompasses these four goals, all to be achieved by 2030. Although formidable, all are attainable with intense, directed action on the part of K-12 systems, higher education institutions, and the community.

The first goal seeks to increase the number of adults ages 25-34 statewide who hold college degrees (2-year or 4-year) or national workforce certifications to 60% by 2030.  In an age where the American Center for Progress reports that one in eight Americans lives in poverty, this type of goal is required. A 2012 Brookings Institute study identified two common characteristics of prosperous communities: residents either held a college degree or had earned a workforce certification, and explained this finding economically in a 2015 report:  adults aged 25 to 34 who finish college degrees not only earn more annually but also contribute more to the local economies, causing the whole community to flourish. Similarly, specialized certifications allow workers access to a set of higher-paying jobs. Therefore, the goal makes good sense for all of us.  However, the 2018 Texas Public Higher Education Almanac reports that in 2016 (the most recent available data) only 42.3% of Texans 25-34 held a degree or certification. Therefore, it is in all our best interests to encourage the young people in our lives to pursue one of these avenues.

The Heart of Texas P-20 council, whose focus is to collaborate, inform, and advocate for seamless pipelines from prekindergarten to career, engages local K-12 systems Waco ISD, Midway ISD, LaVega ISD, and Connally ISD, local charter schools Harmony and Rapoport, higher education partners McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College, Prosper Waco, and numerous business representatives in active communication to remove barriers that might exist that prevent students from helping the state to achieve these strategic goals. And, our earnest work toward this mission is seeing results.

At last Tuesday’s McLennan Community College graduation, Rapoport Academy and Waco ISD graduated 13 students with associate degrees before these students had even graduated from their high school.

Waco ISD’s two associate degree graduates with me: Kiara Jackson, Waco High School, and Isabella Lozano, University High School. These young women have both claimed the title of first student in their high schools to graduate with an associate degree.

One Waco High School student, Kiara Jackson, achieved this feat in only three years—graduating from high school a year early and from her associate program three years ahead of schedule. The students completed these degrees at no cost to themselves, helping to meet the state’s fourth strategic goal of reducing student debt levels. These students avoided costs by participating in programs offered at their high schools that are free of charge. Rapoport Academy’s Early College High School and Waco ISD’s ACCELERATE Early Degree Program are just two innovative ways that regional educators are creating options for our students to eventually earn more as workers and contribute to their communities at higher levels as consumers.

Questions about these types of programs can easily be answered by a high school counselor or current participant; however, three main misconceptions tend to keep students from taking advantage of these types of opportunities:

How does a student have time to meet all the high school graduation requirements and complete a college degree at the same time? Do they have a longer year, go to night school, or have to attend during the summer?  – “Dual credit” classes allow students to earn both high school and college credits at the same time. For example, MCC’s History 1302 can be taken to fulfill both the required credit for high school US History and to complete the U.S. History course requirement for any degree issued at a Texas public college or university.  Therefore, with smart planning, students can complete classes that earn credit towards high school graduation and a college degree.

How does a student know what classes will be accepted by universities, particularly out of state? Who will help them navigate that?  – McLennan Community College advisors are extremely knowledgeable about transfer credits and acceptance of classes. Advisors are required to meet each semester with students prior to enrollment, once two classes are completed. During this advising, they will ask students what schools interest them and what their anticipated majors will be. From that, advisors will determine the best classes for the students. Parents and students can always verify transfer policies for any college by calling the transfer coordinator (whose name can be found on the college’s website) to discover how transfer coursework will be accepted once the student is admitted to the university.

Does this type of program keep students from participating in other school activities? – Because students are accelerating their instruction (sometimes by up to four grade levels), they should consider limiting participation in some activities, especially those that cause them to miss school frequently or require long practice hours outside of the school day. Since grades in these courses impact the students’ high school and college GPAs, an overloaded schedule many times will avert focus from academics (or cause students to have tremendous worry about those academics) and performance suffers. This does not mean students must give up all extra-curricular activities. They can participate in activities such as band or choir, sports, and clubs; however, they should make wise choices when investing time and carefully evaluate the time commitment required of each activity before committing to it.

Perhaps if these types of opportunities had been offered when I was a senior, I would have taken advantage of them and saved myself a great deal of time, money, and stress. We have programs to help increase college access throughout our community—Communities in Schools, VOICE, Project Link, just to name a few. Parents who did not attend college should not feel embarrassed about asking for guidance on how to help their children navigate this process. We are all in this together: schools, businesses, the P20 council and the State of Texas. Together, we can meet the state’s challenge and meet its lofty goal, while simultaneously helping to make Waco a more prosperous community.

Dr. Scott McClanahan is the Executive Director of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction for the Waco Independent School District. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Dr. McClanahan moved to Texas to earn both his Masters degree and Doctorate. He has been a middle school and high school teacher, a community college professor, and a university adjunct professor.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



Hey Baby Boomer! Do you take better care of your car… or yourself?

By Glenn Robinson

Pop quiz. Are the Baby Boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 and now entering their retirement years – more or less healthy than previous generations? The assumption has long been that they are.

Not only has Americans’ life expectancy increased in recent decades, we also are healthier later in life. Since the early 1990s, the average 65-year-old has gained an extra nine months of life expectancy, but gained a full year of disability-free life on average. Research bears out that the change in disability rates has been substantial. In the early 1980s, one in four elderly people had difficulty living independently. Today, there are fewer than one in five.

In addition, despite a major increase in the number of elderly in our country, the nursing home population today is virtually the same as it was two decades ago – yet another testament that the health of the population is improving, even as more people live to older ages.

David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard University who researches disability, has reached the conclusion that people in general are in much better health right up until the last year or two of life. This is in stark contrast, he says, to previous generations in which people spent their final six or seven years of life being very sick and in and out of the hospital.

Boomers were the first generation to have greater access to healthcare and services such as regular immunizations, preventive care, and widespread use of antibiotics. They also grew up in a generally prosperous economy, and many benefitted from greater educational and employment opportunities compared with earlier generations.

All these factors positively correlate to being healthier. Research comparing Baby Boomers with people from two decades ago in the same age bracket also shows that Boomers are healthier in some important ways, including being less likely to have emphysema or suffer heart attacks.

Two critical factors have played a vital role in dropping mortality rates from heart disease. First is the slow and steady decline in smoking rates over the past half-century, which is a critical risk factor for heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1965 more than 42 percent of adults smoked. By 1993, that number tumbled to 25 percent, and, as of 2015, only about 15 percent of adults were smokers.

While the decline in smoking is a big win for public health, the advancements in detection and treatment of heart disease is the major success story in medicine over the past two decades. From blockbuster new cholesterol and blood pressure medications being given more often to the right patients at the right time, to groundbreaking new imaging heart technologies and minimally invasive procedures straight out of a science-fiction novel, the medical advances to manage all facets of heart disease are perhaps unparalleled in medicine.

This may all paint a bright picture, but many of these positives are offset by the negative impact of weight-related health problems. The proportion of Baby Boomers with diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity is increasing, so the answer to whether or not Baby Boomers overall are healthier than previous generations is somewhat mixed.

One solution to this lies in the concept of preventative care.

Nine out of 10 pet owners know when their dog or cat is due for their shots. Eight in 10 mothers know their child’s sports schedule by heart, and 80 percent of men know how often they should have their oil changed. Yet only 50 percent of family health care decision makers know their blood pressure, and only 20 percent know their own key biometric numbers such as cholesterol and body mass index.

While Americans are great at preventive care for their pets and cars, it appears that is not the case when it comes to their own health. This issue puts pressure on the entire health care system because the old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” holds true to this day.

Preventive care such as regular check-ups and practicing a healthy lifestyle help individuals avoid or delay disease. It also can help people catch a health problem early on, when it is most treatable. The Affordable Care Act requires new private health insurance plans to fully cover the costs of 45 recommended preventive services. This means patients pay no deductibles or copayments, or otherwise share costs of these services.

Unfortunately, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that less than half of Americans were aware of the change, meaning many people may be avoiding preventive care out of cost concerns. To make sure you’re not one of them, take advantage of these preventive services when you go in for your annual check-up.

For all the challenges surrounding health care in America, this is one of our healthcare system’s good-news stories.

This report, and other episodes, are available at

Glenn Robinson is the President of Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Hillcrest. He has over 30 years of experience in hospital and health care management, and currently serves on several Boards associated with the Texas Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association. In addition, Glenn is Past-Chair and an active member of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, and serves on the Prosper Waco Board.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.








Reinventing Life for LaSalle

By Jordan Payne

I have lived in Waco for most of my life and I have driven down LaSalle countless times. I regularly pass the flea market, a few taco stands, some vintage resale shops, a couple gas stations, some used tire places – but if I want to stop somewhere and hang out, I can’t. It’s time to make LaSalle a place to actually stop instead of just a place to drive by.

The City of Waco desperately needs a social gathering space for college crowds and young adults in the community. A place where friends can meet to have lunch, dinner, or maybe even a couple of drinks. A place that can be located easily and is a relatively short distance from everything. LaSalle Avenue has that exact potential. It is time to make LaSalle a place that encourages groups of different people to come have fun — day or evening — sit down with friends, and expect to see other people they know.

Where to start? The younger college crowd needs a classy dance club or lounge in a great location with up-to-date music and acts and good service. There are plenty of vacant lots and empty buildings along LaSalle that could fulfill this need. A simple karaoke spot or hookah lounge would be nice.

LaSalle in my opinion is also overdue for some nice restaurants. Waco is home to some wonderful locally owned restaurants like Sascee’s Kitchen, but most of that kind of development is focused around downtown Waco. LaSalle is reasonably distanced from downtown and Baylor, and has enough through traffic to support some good restaurants. Some franchises like a Bar Louie or even Bush’s Chicken could really invigorate the area.

I do not think it would be much of a stretch to organize groups of students and get them active in projects to improve the area, not only for themselves but for other locals and tourists as well. In addition to simple volunteer work, concerts and charitable events could also increase interest and entice improvement to the area. A music festival consisting of local talent is a good method for getting interest and activities started.

The powerhouses of industry in Waco should come together to take advantage of the opportunities that the LaSalle area presents. This would mean more jobs for students and young adults in Waco. In some ways the work has already started.

Baylor University chose to place the Ferrell Center on LaSalle. Housing has started growing and expanding in the area. At the other end of LaSalle along the Waco traffic circle, the Magnolia brand has started the Magnolia Table Restaurant. The Magnolia Brand is already a huge presence from their stores and TV show, and with this implementation of a restaurant I hope that others will follow their business model and capitalize on LaSalle’s potential. However, Magnolia draws older people and tourists. LaSalle needs businesses in the area that will bring in a young, vibrant, diverse crowd to come and stay.

Reinventing LaSalle could also usher in a new era of cohesion for the city as well. The various demographics of Waco historically have not come together for any one event or to any one place. Something new and exciting along LaSalle could change that.

This project will take the efforts of not only businesses but effort from the local community as well. We have the tools to build something great to add to our city and community. It’s time to re-breathe life into this deserted strip east of Baylor.

Jordan Payne is a longtime resident of Waco and graduate of McLennan Community College. He is currently completing his Bachelors in Marketing Design. Jordan has been a part of various groups like the Men of Color Association which promotes community leadership.
The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.