Panhandle Spirit: The ARC at AC

The Advocacy and Resource Center at Amarillo College is poised to serve as a model for other schools nationwide that are trying to eliminate poverty as an obstacle to higher education.(ABC7 Amarillo)

In less than five years, Amarillo College has earned national acclaim for its work helping students overcome non-academic obstacles on their way to graduation.

Now, a new grant has them in position to serve as a model for colleges and universities across the country.

The hub of AC's student support system is the Advocacy and Resource Center--where students go when life takes an unexpected turn.

"It could be the loss of a job. It could be a failed relationship, or somebody's been kicked out of a home, so they lose stability. So, our job her is to help them put the pieces back together when those things happen,” said Social Services Director Jordan Herrera.

Herrera said 21 percent of the school's enrollment get some kind of help at the center.

Cara Crowley, Vice-President for Student Initiatives, says the center's food pantry, clothes closet and an emergency fund help address food and home insecurity, but those aren't the only obstacles.

"We also know transportation is. We know legal services are, mental health counseling. So, we have a legal aid clinic on campus. We have a mental health counseling center here on campus, and so we're trying to look at a holistic approach to addressing poverty barriers," said Crowley.

Herrera says students' comfort level with coming in and asking for help is growing.

"Hopefully, they would look at this place just like they do financial aid, and advising and the registrar's office and the classroom," Herrera said.

A $210,000 grant awarded by the Trellis Foundation will fund a self-study of its services to formally confirm what they've already seen firsthand--that a social services system, plus academic support, increases a student's chance for success. At AC, their graduation and transfer rate has doubled over the past five years.

Crowley praises the countless churches and non-profits who've played a huge role in that.

"If we go talk to people, and we talk about the needs of our students, no one ever tells us no. They're like, 'Oh, how can we help?', and I just think that shows the strength of Amarillo, and it makes me incredibly proud," said Crowley.

The study will take about a year to complete, involving about 2,000 students. In addition to becoming a national model for other schools, the information will help AC learn how it can expand its own programs.

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