On a special episode of the “EdUp Experience” podcast, President Thomas Bailey recently discussed the challenges that higher education students face in conversation with TC alumnus Elvin R. Freytes (M.A.’ 01) and community college president Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, who leads Amarillo College in Texas.

Bailey, an economist specializing in college access through two-year institutions, co-hosted the episode with “EdUp” founder and producer Freytes—who says TC “totally changed his life.”

“When a student enters the community college space, it’s an extremely complex institution with many majors and many courses,” said Bailey, referencing his Guided Pathways model, a comprehensive framework used by more than 400 community colleges for student achievement and success in higher education and beyond.

“I think you [Lowery-Hart] are definitely narrowing down their choices, which is extremely gratifying. These pathways need to begin as early as the high school level and extend into the college space.”

Throughout the episode, Freytes and Bailey focus on the challenges that higher education students face daily, particularly within the walls of Amarillo College. Over the course of the discussion, Dr. Lowery-Hart unpacks these obstacles, including: poverty, refugee support, degree completion, financial security, individualized care, as well as student healthcare and housing, transportation, and much more.

Lowery-Hart explains that Amarillo College is actively seeking solutions to such challenges. “As a community college, we are committed to one thing: loving our students to success. This means knowing who they are, advocating for them directly, all while rebuilding ourselves for them,” says Lowery-Hart.

Pictured left to right: TC alumnus Elvin R. Freytes (M.A.’ 01) and community college president Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart. (Photos courtesy of EdUp) 

Amarillo College has accomplished this practice through a theory of change. “The theory focuses on three things: removing a life barrier, paired with an accelerated learning environment, and a deep culture of caring . . . If we do these things, we find that the average student will complete their degree with the ability to go directly into the workforce.” Specifically, Amarillo has eliminated classes that add time to degree completion, changed its class format from a full semester to an eight-week model, and started advising students as early as their junior year of high school to help them pick the right “pathway” to their degree.

Lowery-Hart has also pursued solutions that include training all of their employees in responding to poverty; hiring social workers to offer direct assistance to students; requiring tutoring in classes themselves; and fully implementing a co-requirement model so classes are tied together to maximize student success. At the same time, Lowery-Hart has created opportunities for students’ needs and perspectives to be incorporated into Amarillo’s values and school culture.

Evidence supports the efficacy of Amarillo’s practices, with student completion rates rising from 19 percent to over 60 percent, with the Texas school aiming to boost that figure even higher.

Lowery-Hart’s approach aligns with Bailey’s perspective on how community college leaders can more effectively support students’ academic and career goals. “Community colleges are in a tough spot with a huge job to do, especially with so many constraints. I think the lessons that we get from your [Lowery-Hart’s] experience will resonate in classrooms around the country,” says President Bailey on Amarillo College’s work.

“The higher education sector faces many challenges,” concludes Bailey. “But I’m looking forward to more conversations like these.”

The 500th episode of the podcast is part of EdUp’s ‘President Series,’ which features over 176 university presidents from around the country. Freytes adds that the podcast has ‘come a long way,’ as he first began the “EdUp Experience” in early 2020 before the height of the pandemic. “We were on our cell phones, having great conversations; it just continued to grow and hasn’t stopped since,” says Freytes.

Bailey and Freytes collaborated previously on the podcast in October of 2021. “As a Teachers College community, we are so proud of you and hope that we’ve contributed to your success,” Bailey said recently of Freytes’ latest milestone.

[Listen and learn more about President Bailey’s critical conversation with Dr. Hart on the “EdUp Experience.”

Listen to an EdUp Experience interview with President Bailey on “Pathways for Student Success,” and a special “Behind the Episode” conversation with TC alumnus Elvin Freytes (M.A. ‘01), co-founder of the EdUp Experience podcast. And stay tuned for future episodes co-hosted by Bailey.]