No Excuses program provides solutions to struggles

By SENTORA RODRIGUEZ, Ranger Reporter:

Amarillo College officials are celebrating the success of the school’s intentional approach to serving students who live in poverty. AC’s No Excuses Poverty Initiative consists of: social services programs such as case management, the food pantry and the clothing closet; the Counseling Center; the Legal Aid Clinic; the Career and Employment Services Center and the Coaches and Champions mentoring program. Another component of the initiative is the creation of a predictive modeling system that forecasts individual student success.

“It is really a systemic cultural approach to how the entire college serves our students,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president said.

Poverty and the inability to meet basic needs have a definite impact on student success, Cara Crowley, AC chief of staff, said. “Sixty percent of our students receive financial aid in some form,” said Crowley, noting that this figure shows the widespread issue of poverty amongst AC students. Since the No Excuses Poverty Initiative began in Fall 2012, there have been significant increases in student retention and completion, said Crowley.

Between 2012 and 2016, AC has seen increases in developmental education success, fall-to-fall retention and graduation and transfer rates.

Graduation and transfer rates, which are usually the final elements to see improvement, have seen increases of seven percent for three-year graduation and two percent for transfer, Crowley said.

Lowery-Hart said that freeing students up to focus on class, instead of worrying about rent, food, childcare or transportation, is helping students be students. “Data shows that if students access at least one service, the retention rate fall-to-fall skyrockets, but their likelihood of completion or transfer skyrockets as well. It shows that if we can remove a life barrier, and provide a coach, then we can improve completion.”

Earlier this year, the college won a national honor called the Bellwether Award for the No Excuses Poverty Initiative. AC officials recently learned that the initiative is also a nominee for the American Association of Community Colleges Student Success Award, which will be given out in April.

“This approach has changed every aspect of Amarillo College,” Board of Regents Chairwoman Michelle Fortunato told the board at their February meeting.

There is still a lot of work to be done, Lowery-Hart said. Rather than adding to the initiative, he wants to make sure it is more effective and has a broader reach. If AC serves 1,000 students this year, Lowery-Hart said, the goal would be to serve 2,000 the next year.

“What I love is that the work we are doing is not just changing students lives on our campus but now it is starting to change student lives at other colleges. Because of what we are doing other colleges are trying to learn from us,” Lowery-Hart said.

“Our impact is not just here in Amarillo anymore, it has become a nation wide impact and I am really proud of us for that.”

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