Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart offered advice to the Virginia Community College leaders gathered at the Chancellor’s Retreat last week in Virginia Beach: “Love the students you have, not the students you used to have.”
Lowery-Hart is president of Amarillo College, a community college in Texas that has undergone massive transformation in recent years to serve students that once were outside of the mainstream for higher education.
“Our students struggle to overcome barriers,” said Lowery-Hart. “Many are the first in their families to attend college, many have income, housing and language challenges. Many work, many have children. Many need child care, legal services, help with paying rent, finding transportation and putting food on the table.”
Amarillo College has transformed to help these students, offering connections with social services, improved counseling, more night and weekend scheduling options and, importantly, accelerated learning opportunities.
“The 16-week semester is based on 100-year old economic conditions,” said Lowery-Hart. “There’s no empirical data to show there’s something magic about 16 weeks for learning. We now offer courses in compressed eight-week schedules, which are more suitable for our students.”
If you follow trends in higher education, you may already have heard of Lowery-Hart, who learned first-hand about some of the conditions faced by his students by participating in a homeless living experiment.
“That caused me to re-think how we serve our students,” said Lowery-Hart.
“We have to disrupt what we’re doing, not just polish-up our old offerings. Colleges have not thought of themselves as social service providers. That thinking must stop.”
You can follow Dr. Lowery-Hart on Twitter @loweryhart
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