Temple College is moving forward with developing an initiative to address the needs of its students who are living with burdens that hamper their ability to get an education.

In June, four Temple College administrators attended the No Excuses Poverty Initiative at Amarillo College and returned to TC realizing there’s a large segment of the TC student population with many needs, mostly unmet, and these obstacles make successfully completing any college courses difficult.

Mark Smith, TC vice president of educational services; Susan Guzman-Trevino, interim vice president academic affairs; Shelley Pearson, associate vice president health professions; and Brent Colwell, fine arts division director, attended the Amarillo event.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but we left with different lenses,” said Colwell, who lead the Friday meeting.

The local effort is now being called The Temple College Learner Success Initiative. Suggestions for a different moniker are welcome.

The average student at TC is 66 percent female, 40 percent minority, 68 percent part time, 34 percent first generation college student, 52 percent financial aid and 87 percent academic transfer focus.

The top barriers to success for Amarillo College students are: career and employment services during college, child care, counseling, financial literacy, food, housing, legal service, school needs, transportation and utility assistance.

Later this fall, TC will be surveying its students on financial barriers.

On Thursday and Friday, staff and faculty were invited to a meeting about developing a local effort that would serve Temple College students and discuss the possibility of the program becoming the Quality Enhancement Plan for the next Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation process.

The Quality Enhancement Plan is a document developed by the college that includes focusing on learning outcomes and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution.

It took several years for Amarillo College to become what it is today.

“It’s a five- to seven-year effort,” Colwell said. “We’re not solving poverty. What we are going to do is reduce learner barriers, the issues that get in the way as students are trying to get that certificate or degree.”

The goal is to improve learner success and completion using current resources, actionable data, making campus culture more user friendly and centralizing campus and community resources.

The school must serve its learners, he said, which includes understanding that first-generation learners are apprehensive in their ability to navigate admissions, enrollment, finance and social connections.

Culture of compassion

There needs to be a culture of compassion that supports the student, each other and the community, Colwell said.

Students can be derailed by circumstances that are beyond their experiences. Colwell said. The problem might be solved by having a conversation with an instructor or counselor.

Many of the services and items needed by students are available through the TC Foundation — food and clothing pantry and emergency loans.

Some students who are in need of assistance are going to be embarrassed to admit their needs, but if a culture of compassion is developed, the hesitation to ask for help will be diminished, he said.

“Amarillo College used grants to hire two social workers and every semester through West Texas A&M they get four social work interns,” Colwell said. “Texas A&M-Central Texas has a large social work intern program and would like to partner with TC on this effort.”

TC does a good job in finding its learners employment while in school and post graduation, he said. The foundation works with students on resume writing.

Community initiative

The Action Plan calls for developing a subcommittee of champions for the initiative; engage community partners and hold a community summit.

Andrea Butler, a music education major at Texas A&M University-Central Texas, started her education at TC.

“I didn’t grow up in a grounded home and there wasn’t a value on education,” Butler said. “There was a lot chaos.”

Education is the key, she said.

“TC saved my life,” Butler said.

At one point she had to drop out because she had a book bill she couldn’t pay and though Colwell, her instructor, offered to pay it, she didn’t accept his offer and was back in class the next semester.

Butler also got to know Jennifer Graham, TC Foundation executive director, who helped her along the way.

“Once a week, I had an hour lesson with Andrea and sometimes we didn’t play a note at those lessons,” Colwell said.

Value of education

Some students aren’t part of a program where they have one-on-one time with their instructors and there needs to be a place on campus where they can go and share their stories and struggles, Colwell said.

Adrian Soro, director of recruitment and retention, reminded the group that colleges were built on middle class values.

“Students coming from poverty don’t understand these rules and regulations,” Soro said. “However, everyone understands the value of education.”

The person living in poverty has different priorities, and in order to live will choose their job over attending class, he said.

“We have to understand their culture and we have to understand the role we play in affecting the student outcome in regard to their culture,” Soro said.