Joe Wyatt
Published February 20, 2019

National community college reform leader Achieving the Dream (ATD) on Feb. 19 named Amarillo College a co-recipient of its 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award, a significant national accolade contingent upon measurable improvements in student outcomes.

Achieving the Dream2hpAmarillo College, and co-recipient Columbus State Community College (Ohio), received formal recognition for developing innovative student-success strategies at ATD’s 15th Annual Conference in Long Beach, Calif.


“To be selected as a Leah Meyer Austin Award winner, a college must be courageous enough to make big changes in everything that impacts the ability of their students to be successful,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream.


“Amarillo College and Columbus State College are strong examples of institutions that took bold action to align college-wide solutions that result in significant and sustainable institutional improvement.”


At Amarillo College, data summits for faculty and staff – and a variety of student focus groups – revealed that poverty, not academics, was the most significant barrier to student success. Students’ concerns about adequate food, housing, transportation, childcare and mental healthcare were weighing them down and preventing greater academic progress.


So AC adopted a Culture of Caring and launched a unique and ambitious No Excuses Poverty Initiative to connect first-generation and/or academically underprepared students with social services structured to help them overcome barriers to success.


The College prioritized accelerated learning, predictive analytics and wraparound social services. AC redesigned developmental education and incorporated the courses into pathways, while reconfiguring most courses from 16 to 8 weeks.


Over the past six years, Amarillo College opened a counseling center, a legal aid clinic, a career and employment center, and a childcare center. AC also launched an Advocacy and Resource Center, which houses a food pantry and connects students with social services provided by more than 60 local nonprofits.


Since their inception, AC’s initiatives have led to steady gains in A-to-C pass rates, fall-to-fall retention, and three-year graduation/transfer rates, which among first generation students have increased from 12 percent to 21 percent.


Additionally, the percentage of students who attend AC on a full-time basis continues to climb – 75 percent of AC students attended the College part time in 2015, while only 57 percent were part-time students in 2018.


“What an incredible and gratifying honor this is,” AC President Russell Lowery-Hart said. “Our inclusion in the Achieving the Dream consortium in 2011 placed Amarillo College in elite company nationwide. Then in 2014, our College was named one of only 16 Achieving the Dream Leader Colleges. It was hard then to imagine that we could ever be more thrilled.


“But to be singled out for the Leah Meyer Austin Award is an overwhelming and humbling badge of honor, especially because it comes from the very prestigious organization – Achieving the Dream – that helped us establish our Culture of Caring and the Poverty Initiative that is making such a dramatic difference in the lives of so many of our students.


“This absolutely reinforces our commitment to providing life-defining experiences for our students,” he said.


Conceived as an initiative in 2004 by Lumina Foundation and seven founding partner organizations, Achieving the Dream now leads the most comprehensive non-governmental reform movement for student success in higher education history. ATD leads a growing network of more than 220 community colleges in 41 states committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity.