Joe Wyatt
Published October 30, 2018

Amarillo College has received significant funding to conduct a collaborative self-study of its No Excuses Poverty Initiative. The findings may help set the bar for other colleges and universities striving to remove economic barriers to student success.

Success Is AC NewsThe $210,000 grant comes courtesy of the Texas-based Trellis Foundation (formerly TG), a public charitable organization focused on improving educational attainment for low-income students.

The study’s results will be disseminated nationally and offered for inclusion in the U.S. Department of Education’s What Works Clearinghouse, an archive of best-practice benchmarks to which applicants for federal funding often must adhere.

The Trellis Foundation is not presently accepting unsolicited grant proposals; however, AC, which has emerged as a leading voice in the burgeoning national dialogue about students in poverty, received a special invitation to apply for a grant and did so.

The in-depth study will seek to understand the academic impact of connecting low-income, first-generation and/or academically underprepared students with social-services assistance structured to help them overcome poverty barriers.

AC, home to the Billie Bee Flesher Advocacy & Resource Center (ARC), will collaborate on the study with Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab and the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, which she founded at Temple University.

Together they hope to answer the question: Does Building an ARC increase Academic Success and Educational Attainment?

“We believe that it does because we’re seeing the results firsthand,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, said. “But hard data is needed. It’s gratifying to be given this opportunity to work with Dr. Goldrick-Rab to assess our own systemic approach to increasing student persistence and success.”

The ARC is the cornerstone of AC’s No Excuses Poverty Initiative. It houses a social services case-management, counseling and intervention program; a food pantry and clothing closet; and it connects students with campus and community resources – housing, transportation, childcare, utility assistance and more.

Since the inception of the No Excuses Poverty Initiative, AC has recorded steady gains in A-to-C pass rates and fall-to-fall retention, three-year graduation and transfer rates, percentage of students who attend full time, and more.

As AC’s gains outpaced those being recorded nationally, higher education took notice. The No Excuses Poverty Initiative garnered national acclaim in 2017 when it captured a prestigious Bellwether Award.

In 2018, AC’s systemic approach to accommodating low-income students was detailed in the May 30 issue of The Atlantic.

In response to a torrent of requests, AC hosted a No Excuses Poverty Summit. That was in June. Initially designed to accommodate 40 people, the summit drew 125 representatives from colleges and universities in 14 states – from Alabama to Washington.

Now the Trellis Foundation has provided the means by which AC can validate the impact of its systemic initiative and share an even greater wealth of knowledge and innovation.

It will not be AC’s first collaboration with Goldrick-Rab. The noted scholar-activist and author published a Trellis-funded case study in June called, Supporting Community College Completion with a Culture of Caring: A Case Study of Amarillo College.

This new research study will take about a year to complete. Its ultimate determination is to conclude whether or not AC’s theory of change has long-term impact on student success and on a student’s social and economic mobility.

“That our poverty initiative could become a blueprint for other colleges to adopt, while humbling, buoys our hopes of making higher education more attainable for everyone,” Lowery-Hart said.