Amarillo College’s Culture of Caring illustrates that by addressing student poverty barriers, students will complete and will graduate/transfer. By changing our perspectives to student engagement and academic systems, Amarillo College (AC) has seen a 185% growth in our student degree/transfer rates over the last six years. By learning who are our students, what are their educational dreams, and what is the reality of their educational attainment and completion, we revolutionized our institution and ourselves. At AC, we love the students we have and have created a Culture of Caring embracing our students and their needs.
College completion and career readiness drive our efforts at AC, no matter our job descriptions or reporting structures – we are all on the college completion team. We love the student we have, rather than the student we thought or wished we had enrolled.
The typical AC student is predominantly female; attends part-time; receives financial aid; requires developmental education; and is first-generation. AC is a minority-majority institution with 55% of our students declaring minority status. To help this student, AC has developed structured accelerated learning systems, supporting their educational needs and goals. We redesigned our college for our student not us.
At Amarillo College, we know we must accelerate our students’ time-to-degree and hold costs down for them. The longer students take to complete their degree, the more costly it becomes and the less likely they will graduate. With an intentional system to graduate every student in three years, AC innovatively accelerates a student’s learning by instituting academic and non-academic support systems to ensure student success, without lowering academic expectations.
When our students identified the Top 10 Barriers to their completion, none were based in academics. Each of the greatest barriers to completion was life related, rather than academic in notion. AC was so focused on academic success we failed to realize the more powerful and debilitating barrier - poverty. In response, we developed our theory of change – if AC removes poverty barriers, students will succeed academically and graduate with the skills and credentials needed to earn a living wage.
Over the last five years, AC has created a cohesive system designed to address the Top 10 Barriers to Student Success identified by our students. The student support services centers are AC’s Advocacy & Resource Center (ARC), AC Counseling Center, AC Legal Aid Clinic, AC Career & Employment Center, and Hagy Childcare Center.
The ARC is the hub of Amarillo College’s system designed to eradicate poverty barriers. The ARC is located in the heart of our main campus. Our ideology behind the ARC’s location is greater than just serving an increase in students. AC wants to remove the stigma attached to our interventions established to remove poverty barriers for our students.
Amarillo College recognizes relationships are the key to successful interventions for students living in the war zone of poverty. Having one person serve as an advocate to remove poverty barriers is critical, because many students from generational poverty lack the language, experiences, and confidence to navigate the higher education processes.
AC partners with over 60 local non-profits, which have federal/state/private funds, to help our students meet basic life needs. Through these collaborations, AC students have access to funds for transportation, housing, utilities and childcare. Without these external partnerships, the college would be unable to eradicate poverty barriers our students experience while attending our institution.
Partners like local optometrists who provide free eye exams. Partners like area churches that provide utility funds and food donations for our pantries. By working together, Amarillo College and our community partners ensure no student has to drop out of school to meet basic life needs.
During 2017-2018, the Advocacy & Resource Center assisted nearly 25% of our total enrollment with intensive case management, connections to on-campus resources and community resources, addressing food insecurity needs, providing emergency aid, and offering business attire for job-seeking students. Students who access the ARC and social services have 36% higher retention and 14% higher persistence rates than students who do not access the ARC. When we address a life barrier, students stay in college.
Today, Amarillo College has evolved from a theory of change to an action-oriented initiative focused on three key components: data analytics and predictive modeling; creating systems supported by on-campus programs and community agencies to eradicate student poverty barriers; and accelerated learning systems that meet a student’s academic and non-academic needs. Each component works cohesively and across the institution in order to achieve our No Excuses 2020 vision of 70% completion by 2020.
When we love our students from enrollment to graduation, they thrive in school, achieve their educational dreams, and support the economic future of our communities. Amarillo College’s Culture of Caring approach has increased completion rates by 185%. By working together, AC is achieving our No Excuses 2020 vision. Most importantly, Amarillo College graduates are leading and nourishing our community.
Cara Crowley serves as vice president of strategic initiatives at Amarillo College. Ms. Crowley’s leadership focuses on improving student success through systemic change. In her career, she has led institution-wide initiatives targeting a systemic approach addressing student poverty barriers, course redesign efforts, and creating a data ecosystem that drives policy reformation.