Amarillo College and Dominican University of California Receive ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation
September 08, 2020

​​​​ACE announced today that Amarillo College and Dominican University of California are the recipients of the 2020 ACE/Fidelity Investments Award for Institutional Transformation.The award was created to recognize institutions that have responded to higher education challenges.

“Amarillo College and Dominican University of California forged their own futures by adapting to the changing needs of their student body and the higher education landscape,” said ACE President Ted Mitchell. “I am proud to honor their efforts with this award through the generous support of Fidelity Investments.”

“It is increasingly important for colleges and universities to find innovative ways to address the evolving needs and challenges facing their students,” said Debra Frey, vice president of analytics and marketing at Fidelity Investments. “Fidelity Investments congratulates Amarillo College and Dominican University of California on being recognized for their outstanding efforts to improve the experiences and outcomes for their student bodies. We are honored to provide our support to this exceptional program.”

ACE invited nominations and applications for the award from any U.S. college or university eligible for ACE membership, divided into two categories: the first for institutions with student populations of 5,001 and more (Amarillo), and the second for institutions with student populations of up to 5,000 (Dominican).

Amarillo College is a community college and Hispanic-Serving Institution. In 2014, the college utilized student secret shoppers, focus groups, and survey data to identify challenges that their students faced. They found that rather than academic barriers, life-related barriers such as poverty were the most common obstacles to student success. The following year, Amarillo established a dynamic five-year strategic plan, No Excuses 2020, with a clear vision of 70 percent completion. Students were empowered to set the values of the college, which gave rise to the A-C Culture of Caring initiative. The initiative integrated accelerated learning, predictive-analytics, and wraparound social services to overcome student poverty barriers.  

Over five years, Amarillo saw a 75 percent growth rate in first-generation students graduating with a degree or certificate, a 64 percent growth rate in Pell Grant students graduating, and increases in the course pass rate, especially for Hispanic and African American students.

“Our transformation started with a deep commitment to loving the students we had (not the ones we wished or thought we had) and redesigning the entire institution for her,” said Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart. “When our student needs are at the center of our work, we not only change their social mobility, we transform the economic future of our community and region.”

Dominican University of California, like many small independent colleges and universities, has faced changing student demographics and financial pressures. Recent innovations have resulted in dramatic improvements in student and institutional success. They include a comprehensive faculty-led curricular overhaul, a creative partnership with a San Francisco-based coding academy to establish digital literacy for all students, and an initiative with a nearby city to promote civic engagement through internships and scholarships. The civic engagement initiative is now being scaled across California, providing a first-of-its-kind model for students to pay for college through service. At the heart of all these innovations is a core commitment to student success known as the Dominican Experience: every student receives personalized coaching, takes part in community engagement, completes signature work, and develops a digital portfolio.

As a result of these and other innovations, Dominican has seen a more than 70 percent increase in graduation rates since 2011, and an increase of 30 percent in the ethnic diversity of the undergraduate degree-seeking student body from 2011 to 2018, which currently stands at 65 percent. Additionally, annual non-tuition revenue built from new partnerships and creative outreach has more than doubled in that time. Thirty percent of Dominican students are Pell-eligible, and 23 percent are the first in their families to attend college. In fall 2019, first-to-second year retention for those who started as first-year students was at 87.5 percent, the highest in nearly a decade.

“In recent years, each new initiative Dominican University of California has launched draws inspiration from the Dominican Experience: a foundational set of principles and programs designed to address the challenges—and realize the potential—of changing student demographics and the headwinds facing small colleges and universities,” said Dominican President Mary B. Marcy. “It is a privilege to lead this innovative institution whose faculty and staff are committed to sustainable, mission-aligned innovation to ensure the success of our students and the entire Dominican community.”