AC’s investment provides motivation to thrive


By CLAIRE EKAS, Assistant Editor ¦

When Amarillo College officials put together the 2018-2019 budget, they had to put aside roughly $3.5 million from public funds for a new community initiative that directly benefits AC students. The money will go toward the Thrive Scholarship, a program that allows Amarillo Independent School District graduates to attend AC tuition-free for 60 credit hours.

Unlike its predecessor, ACE, Thrive is for all AISD high school graduates who meet the scholarship’s requirements, which include an 80 or higher GPA and no disciplinary problems in high school. Thrive is also a “last money in” scholarship, meaning if a student receives any other form of financial aid, Thrive covers what is left over.

“We’ve had a couple of parents’ nights and the question that always comes up is, ‘What’s the catch?’” Wes Condray-Wright, AC communications and marketing director, said. “It seems like free is too good to be true, but it really is a great program.”

There are four local partners that have agreed to fund Thrive. AISD covers one-fifth of the cost, AC covers one-fifth of the cost, the Amarillo Area Foundation covers one-fifth of the cost and the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation covers two-fifths of the cost. The AEDC will get half of its contribution from private individuals and local businesses who have agreed to donate to the program over the six-year term of the scholarship.

Although each partner has agreed to fund a certain amount over the six-year term, each partner’s actual contribution depends on the number of students that enroll using Thrive.

Steve Smith, vice president of business affairs, said he and Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart came up with the scholarship plan and then pitched the idea to the partners. Everyone liked the plan, with the exception of AISD officials who had concerns about one taxable entity being able to give another taxable entity money.

The momentum of the scholarship came to a screeching halt as the plan was sent to the Texas attorney general for review in December 2017.

Originally, officials planned to call the scholarship ACE Amarillo, but there were concerns that people would still think the scholarship only applied to graduates from Palo Duro, Caprock and certain students from Tascosa High School, the three schools that had received ACE.

So, while waiting for the attorney general to review the plan, they bounced around new names and finally settled on Thrive. “The idea that the community can really grow and prosper from this scholarship program was what brought about the name Thrive,” Condray-Wright said.

Reagan Hales, AEDC vice president of marketing and communications, said the motivation for contributing funding to the scholarship is simple.

“We can’t recruit companies if there are not folks available to be hired. Given the incredible impact this scholarship could have on the success of our organization and ultimately our community, we felt it was necessary to be an integral partner,” Hales said.

Smith, who has been the AC vice president of business affairs for almost three years, wrote a business model that tracks how many students from each AISD school attend AC after graduating, how many attend a Texas university and how many are untrackable, meaning they either didn’t attend college or went to a university out of state.

The number of students who were untrackable at most high schools was higher than the number of students who attended AC. This was something that Smith said he and Lowery-Hart wanted to change because the sooner students graduate from college, the more money they will have the ability to make in their lifetimes. This is called their lifetime earning potential.

“We wrote this scholarship around the idea that students needed to come to college and graduate on time so that they can increase their overall lifetime earning potential,” Smith said.

The potential economic impact Thrive can have on the Amarillo community is the end goal for all involved. “Thrive gives our community the best chance to compete with other cities for economic expansion,” Lowery-Hart said.

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