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All In

“After high school comes college!” If you’ve been at any Amarillo ISD campus you’re probably familiar with this gregarious chant. It’s inspiring to see kids putting the pieces together from Pre-K to high school and on to college. In this week’s WHY ACE blog,
we wanted to see how ACE is affecting the college campuses, we’ll focus on Amarillo College this week and West Texas A&M University next week.

I think it’s fair to say that ACE’s success hinges on the willingness of all parties to collaborate. That becomes clear when we look at how much collaboration is required at the college level. At Amarillo College, they have created special processes designed specifically for ACE.

“We start our interactions in high school,” Kelly Prater, Director of Financial Aid at AC, says. “We have hands-on FAFSA nights, at all the ACE campuses while they are still in high school.”

The work doesn’t stop there; because one of the requirements of ACE is to apply for student aid every year. Prater and her team also work with currently enrolled students too.

“Now you have financial aid, and this is what you have to do to keep it,” explained Prater. “Once we have determined a student will qualify, ACE picks up any remaining balance keeping students from needing loans.”

ACE has had a profound effect on the Amarillo College campus through its 20 plus years. ACE brought new demographics of students to the campus and has changed who is attending college.

“Caprock became the number one feeder high school for Amarillo College. Since the 70’s Amarillo High had been,” explained Bob Austin, VP of Student Affairs. “And it’s not like there are less students coming from Amarillo High, but now with ACE, Amarillo College is the college of choice for Caprock students.”

In the early days of ACE, Amarillo College was certainly happy to have a new demographic of students on campus, but with new demographics comes some thinking about how to influence those students. Austin contends that higher education was not set up for students with the unique needs.

“Our attitude, historically, in higher education, has been, even if you’re admitted to the college you haven’t proven you’re college material until you navigate all the stuff we throw at you,” said Austin. “False obstacles that are designed to do nothing more than trip you up, and prove over and over again if you really deserve to be here. We are working hard to knock those down.”

Because the students in ACE are broken into cohorts, based on the year they graduate, it’s the perfect environment for Amarillo College to try new approaches for their students. The cohorts of students make testing new ideas and initiatives easier. This adds to the service AC provides to their students, but also demonstrates a continued guidance through the collegiate process. If the initiatives they try with these cohorts are successful, AC scales the new initiative to the entire student body. The newly created mentor program is a high touch approach to student’s success and an example of such an initiative.

“We piloted the mentor program with ACE students from Palo Duro High, and then expanded to Caprock, the plan this year is to make this a mandatory process for ACE students,” explains Austin. “The success rate for those students who had mentors is outstanding because they know that there is someone who works here and helps them navigate.”

ACE has helped AC adapt to the changing college climate that all higher education institutions are facing. As the demographics change, so must the process.

“I came here over 13 years ago and only 14% of our students were Hispanic, now our Hispanic population is at 40%, we were trying and clawing to get to 25% so we could get designated as a Hispanic Serving Institution,” explains Austin. “So we’ve changed — it’s like change or die. ACE students helped us change because they brought that diversity.”

Austin explains that the approach to students is more about being nurturing and understanding the internal, socioeconomic, and cultural barriers many of the students face. Keeping the same standard, but addressing barriers is the goal.

“Some people assume, ‘Oh you’ve lowered your standards,’” explains Austin. “NO! These students are tested, they are pushed hard, and we get feedback that students come back and say thank you for pushing me so hard.”

Bob Austin’s final thought perfectly sums up Amarillo College’s perspective on ACE.

“We are all in for ACE, it’s changed us.”

Broc headshot for blog