A Culture of Caring with Amarillo College’s Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart
Community College Voice Podcast
Over half of Amarillo College's enrolled students are grappling with housing and/or food insecurity. In this episode, we talk to Amarillo College's president Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart about how the college's culture of caring is helping students succeed. The new documentary, The Antidote, shows stories of Amarillo College's commitment to eliminating barriers for students even before the pandemic created more challenges.
Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart: Invisible Struggles of Homelessness in Higher Education
Deep Dives Podcast With Trimeka Benjamin
Amarillo College’s Advocacy and Resource Center (ARC) serves as a safe space for students affected by poverty, about 15% of their student population. At one point, however, the program was barely utilized and the issue of poverty was an uncomfortable conversation in the meeting rooms. In the season 1 finale, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College, walks us through his journey of discovery. How, if ignored, the homeless would continue to be invisible, their struggles would be hidden, and their chance at an education would be lost. Nationally recognized for his work around poverty initiatives, we break down how he scaled the ARC initiative for real impact, changing the way Amarillo College serves their students. From his reflection on a homelessness simulation to the candid conversations with students, Dr. Lowery-Hart’s passion and perspective will inspire you to step up and help those in need.
Seventeen years ago, Panhandle Twenty/20 officially launched in a community event attended by several hundred community leaders and others. Today, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart serves as guest-host to interview Anette about those beginnings, and the journey they have been on together since. Special intro from an incredibly relevant blogpost written by Seth Godin.
Helping Underrepresented Students Succeed with Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart | Changing Higher Ed 048
Changing Higher Ed
The COVID-19 pandemic has put even more pressure on institutions that serve underrepresented populations. One such institution is Amarillo College in Amarillo, TX. This community college is redefining its efforts to reach and engage its student body, many of whom are non-traditional and underrepresented students. Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart is the college’s president. A product of the area, he previously served as a faculty member and associate provost of academic affairs at nearby West Texas A&M University (WTAM) before moving to Amarillo College as vice president of academics. He assumed the college’s presidency in 2014. Focus on Educational Attainment While serving as WTAM’s associate provost, Dr. Lowery-Hart was part of a community study on educational attainment in the Amarillo community. The data suggested that the community would be at-risk if the educational path for the majority of students did not fundamentally change. The institution that would be most critical in changing that trajectory was Amarillo College, the area’s community college. With that in mind, Dr. Lowery-Hart applied for the position of Amarillo’ College’s vice president for academic when the position came open. He wanted to make this move because he understood that the college was going to be the epicenter in changing the community’s economic future. Dr. Lowery-Hart considers himself an academic at heart so he looks at issues from a faculty perspective. When he came to Amarillo College, he initially looked at the institutional success rates, which were low. Wanting to understand what was happening in the classroom, Dr. Lowery-Hart assumed what the answers behind why students were failing so profoundly centered on academics. While that was partially true, students also told him that the biggest barriers to their academic success had nothing to do with what was going on in the classroom; instead, the biggest barriers were child care, health care, transportation, housing, food, utility payments, legal services and mental health support. That understanding of the students’ situation changed Dr. Lowery-Hart as a person as well as a professional. He realized that the college’s infrastructure and support services needed to change dramatically in order to prepare students for workforce demands as well as transferring to universities. Changing Perceptions about Students Hearing students’ stories highlighted the fact that higher education is often built around a history that doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of students that are in the community and on campuses. Institutions often are committed to perpetuating the wrong thinking that they need to serve the students that used attend instead of the student that is here now. Conversations with students also taught Dr. Lowery-Hart that higher education administrators and faculty need to fall in love with the current students, instead of the students that the institution wishes it has or used to have. This means listening to, acknowledging and seeing students for who they are, and using their voices to shape the institution’s work. Higher education needs to provide a familial context in order to learn profoundly – students don’t care how much faculty and administrators know until they know how much they care. To that end, Amarillo College held a professional development training as part of a poverty certification. Administrators, faculty and staff learned that while students who have nuclear family are enrolled in some form or fashion, generational poverty has changed how many students see themselves, their world and their own advocacy. Dr. Lowery-Hart said that most institutions are set up to support people like those already in higher education instead of supporting students who come from poverty. Generational poverty teaches passivity and that hard work isn’t rewarded because people who live in poverty have done the hard work without seeing it pay off. This realization caused Amarillo College to rethink its bureaucracy, messaging and support systems. It also caused the institution to embrace the concept of love, with the idea that love through education can help someone emerge from generational poverty. Because of this work, Amarillo College used its student enrollment data created a composite student, which they have named Maria. Maria is 27 years old, a Hispanic female who has real financial need. She is working two part-time jobs and raising a child while going to college. This type of student is common in most community colleges and at many universities. Dr. Lowery-Hart noted that the institution needs to design itself around “Maria’s” needs while at the same time being cognizant of keeping male students on a successful pathway. Improving Student Services Amarillo College already had numerous innovative student services in place before the pandemic. Dr. Lowery-Hart said that life barriers need to be removed to help students embrace the learning. Providing systems of support have fundamentally altered students’ outcomes. Some of these structures are unique. For example, Dr. Lowery-Hart has hired four social workers to bring robust community support to the college and to case-manage students through their classes and into success while ensuring they have the resources they need to graduate. Amarillo College also expanded the number of available counselors because so many students grew up in generational poverty and are struggling with trauma that many cannot understand. Additionally, there is academic support, through required tutoring, coaching and mentoring. The system that Amarillo College put in place, which was instrumental in increasing the college’s completion rate from 19% five years ago to 52% currently, includes: Social workers, who are structurally connecting students to support; Required tutoring in classes to help students improve their learning; A mentor or coach, to help students connect with resources and navigate the bureaucracy ; and A counseling center to provide emotional support. Additionally, the poverty training also helped faculty understand their role on the frontline because they have the most robust relationship with these students. Because faculty serve as the glue to help the students get to the proper services when they need it, the college created an early alert system in the faculty’s grade book so they can alert appropriate support staff that they have a student who needs specific assistance. The training also helped faculty members change their paradigm. Faculty were seeing students who were not coming to class and/or sleeping in class as not being successful. The faculty had been internalizing these situation, thinking that they were not able to engage their students. What the poverty training helped highlight is that faculty cannot assume they automatically understand what the student’s behavior means. Instead, faculty need to ask. For example, students who were sleeping in class were working the night shift at the meat-packing plant in the community. Students who were late to class were delayed by unreliable public transit. This understanding freed faculty to see that they weren’t the center of student disengagement, but that they could be the center of supporting students in a more effective learning environment. By giving faculty resources and a few key pieces of information, the college has created an important support system for students. In the Aftermath of COVID The COVID pandemic highlighted the fact that many students don’t have technology resources, a danger which will disparately affect these students by moving everything online. Therefore, Amarillo College focuses on tech-supported learning, as opposed to online learning. Online learning creates fear for many students because they think they don’t have the skills or ability. Tech-support focuses on the learning instead of being online (although that is there). Additionally, more counseling, tutoring and advising sessions are available through tech-supported learning, although the way these are accessed are different. Amarillo College also had a subset of students who did not have access to technology at home. Dr. Lowery-Hart believed it was important to keep one of the school’s largest computer labs open with every safety protocol imaginable so that these students could access it during the pandemic. The college also moved to the lab’s circle desk and, wearing a mask, Dr. Lowery-Hart pitched in personally by taking students’ temperatures and asking them all the protocol questions. He then connected students to a group of employees who could help students get online or help them access tutoring or advising. Most students didn’t know it was him doing this as his lower face, including his beard, were covered. Dr. Lowery-Hart stated that being on the frontlines at this time was important as the president of the institution. He also believed strongly that the college needed to keep those services available because otherwise students would fail or drop out, and the college would never get them back. He also noted that once students realized that the president was the person helping them in the computer lab, they had a stronger understanding of the institution’s commitment to them. Lessons from the Pandemic One of the biggest lessons involved the counseling center. Robust counseling services were available prior to COVID, but half of these appointments were cancelled. The college found that moving these appointments to a Google Meets environment resulted in fewer cancellations, while also being able to counsel students more profoundly. The same thing is happening with advising. Moving forward, Dr. Lowery-Hart believes that much of the advising and counseling services will be offered through an online platform because the college is seeing more students. The college also is seeing more need as well as more trauma, and is working with Heal the City, a free area clinic, in a partnership. That way, college counselors can connect students to a psychologist who can assist them until they can get more robust psychological intervention. Post-COVID, the college will try to use these new tools that have emerged during the pandemic to serve more students. The counseling and advising centers will remain in a remote environment moving forward because students are accessing these more freely and are being served more effectively. Changes in Academics In the breakneck transition to a remote learning environment online, students have given the college a lot of grace, but by the time the fall semester comes around, that grace period ends and the college needs to be experts at it. Faculty are really embracing professional development opportunities that are being offered and incentivized by the college in relation to doing a better job in creating a remote learning environment. When the college comes back in session in the fall term in whatever form, faculty will be extremely effective in whatever modality of learning is used. COVID has expatiated that transformation. The institution also is assessing which classes are best suited for a remote environment and which should be taught in a hybrid or face-to-face environment. These decisions now can be made using data instead of instructor- or student-comfort level. Three Recommendations for Higher Education Leaders Dr. Lowery-Hart suggested several takeaways for higher education leaders: Develop the composite of who your student is, not who you think she is. Make your typical student the center of your re-imagination of your institution in a post-COVID world. Use a secret shopper process. Dr. Lowery-Hart each year identifies a handful of students and pays them to be a secret shopper so they can report back on their experiences using school processes. These shoppers help him understand the student experience beyond typical survey data. Each year, the focus is different. In the past, these have included the onboarding process, the tutoring process, the learning experiences and the advising process. You have to understand what your students need on the front line and what your employees on the front line need from you. Bullet Points Community and local commuter colleges may be the linchpin in helping communities maintain economic viability in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Higher education leaders need to ask students about the barriers to learning they are facing, rather than relying solely on conjecture or past history. The institution’s administrators, faculty and staff need to fall in love with the students who are at the institution, instead of focusing on a different type of student who are not in attendance. A composite student that is based on enrollment data can help leaders, faculty and staff have a template of what students are facing and the assistance they need. Generational poverty is a major factor facing many students. Therefore, it is important for leaders, faculty and students to get a better understanding of what this means for students and how to develop meaningful services that will help these students succeed. Support systems can include social workers, counseling, tutoring and advising. These systems need to be built with student need and usage in mind. Faculty are the frontline staff members with students, and they need to have a strong understanding of generational poverty and what services are available so they can make appropriate referrals to support students. Generational poverty also may mean that students are intimidated by online learning. Therefore, tech-supported learning that provides additional assistance may be the best way to go. Some students may not have access to technology to be able to do online learning. Therefore, the college needs to look for innovative ways to make these technology available so that students can succeed. The pandemic has increased the need for many services. In addition, many students are facing increased trauma. Consider forming a partnership with a community organization in order to provide necessary resources to support students. Higher education needs to continue to improve its online course offerings through professional development. In the wake of the pandemic, it’s important for institutions to use data to determine which courses are best taught online, which need to be hybrid and which work best as face-to-face courses. Institutional leaders need to be the face of the institution in times of crisis. By interacting regularly with students, leaders can help underscore how much the institution cares about each student’s issues and success. Links to Articles, Apps, or websites mentioned during the interview: Amarillo College Russell Lowery-Hart Guests Social Media Links: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/russellloweryhart/ Twitter: https://twitter.com/loweryhart?lang=en The Change Leader’s Social Media Links: Website: https://thechangeleader.com Website: https://changinghighered.com LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drdrumm/ Twitter: @thechangeldr Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Keywords: #Education #University #BlackLivesMatter #HigherEducation
The Culture of Caring During Coronavirus--Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart
Anette On Education
Special Edition for COVID-19: Hear how Amarillo College is responding to the challenges that the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown at us and everyone else. A great team that continues to grow our Culture of Caring at AC, led by our president, Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart. Keep on educating our students, all!
russell lowery-hart & empowering students to succeed
Higher Ed Social
This week we discuss the barriers faced by low-income students with Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, president of the Amarillo College. In his time as president, he's overseen significant increases in student retention and graduation rates while also working to make his institution an economic driver for the community and region. On the show, Dr. Lowery-Hart shares how Amarillo College made such radical change happen and the many opportunities for higher education to break tradition and adapt to a changing world.
A conversation with Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, the president of Amarillo College. Born in Slaton and educated at WTAMU, he succeeded Dr. Paul Matney at AC in 2014—and was almost immediately met with a funding crisis. With host Jason Boyett, Lowery-Hart talks about navigating that crisis, learning hard lessons about leadership, and how AC came out stronger on the other side. The two dive deep into his upbringing and career as they discuss what makes the Amarillo area so special. This episode is sponsored by the Mani-Camper and Dr. Eddy Sauer. Grab BeerFest tickets HERE.
Dr. Lowery-Hart was selected into the inaugural class of the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, a rigorous executive leadership program led by the Aspen Institute and the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative. Dr. Lowery-Hart served as the chair for the Amarillo “No Limits/No Excuses” Partners for Postsecondary Success Collective Impact – a 21 organization collaborative focused on education certificate and degree completion leading to living wage employment. He served as the chair for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Undergraduate Education Advisory Committee charged with evaluating and redesigning the state of Texas general education requirements.Dr. Lowery-Hart previously served as Vice-President of Academic Affairs for Amarillo College. He was named the National Council of Instructional Administrators Academic Leader of the Year for 2014. He received his Ph.D. from Ohio University; M.A. Texas Tech University; and, B.S. from West Texas State University.While his calling is education reform, his passion is family. His wife, Tara, sons Christopher and Campbell, daughter, Cadence fill his life with beauty and joy.