The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and MDC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding opportunity and reducing poverty, announced that Amarillo has been selected as one of four cities to participate in the Partners for Postsecondary Success initiative as part of a Gates-funded national effort to improve postsecondary completion rates among low-income young adults.   

Led by MDC, Partners for Postsecondary Success (PPS) is a three-year demonstration project to work with community partnerships focused on increasing the number of low-income young adults who earn a postsecondary certificate or degree and go on to get jobs that pay a living wage.  Amarillo is one of four community partnerships in Texas and North Carolina – two in each state – that will receive coaching and funding to examine the current and historic status of low-income young adults in their communities and identify data-driven strategies to advance postsecondary and employment outcomes.  PPS is expected to help communities improve the performance of their postsecondary institutions, deepen collaboration between education and industry to forge student pathways to good jobs, and align and leverage resources to sustain the partnership effort beyond the demonstration period.  

The four selected sites are receiving Gates Foundation planning grants for seven months to develop a specific plan to improve postsecondary and employment outcomes for low-income young adults. Sites that successfully complete the planning phase and submit an implementation proposal will be considered for up to $1.5 million in additional Gates Foundation funding over approximately two years to launch their local community initiatives.
By improving educational attainment among low-income young adults and equipping a new generation with the skills necessary to be competitive in an increasingly global market place, communities will improve the lives of their youth and strengthen their local economies.

Recent data from the Census Bureau indicate that one in seven Americans now live in poverty, a stunning figure that also includes more than eight million families.  Education is the key to reversing this disturbing trend and helping the nation move successfully into a more stable and productive economic future, particularly for young adults.

“Too often low-income young adults are unable to see a clear path to a meaningful career, in part due to misconceptions about the full range of postsecondary options available to them,” said David Dodson, president of MDC.  “It is imperative for disadvantaged communities across the South, and the nation, to create avenues of opportunity for these young adults.  The global competitiveness of our nation is dependent upon it.”

A recent report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University estimates that 63 percent of all job openings over the next eight years will require postsecondary education or training.  However, only 38 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 hold an Associate Degree or higher and only 27 percent of students who enroll in community colleges actually complete their degrees within three years of enrolling.  

Not only does education strengthen our national workforce, it is also the key to ending intergenerational poverty.  Research shows that even one year of college-level study can improve lifetime earning potential, and as the level of educational attainment increases, the difference in earning potential between high school and college graduates becomes even more pronounced.  Earning an Associate Degree means a difference of more than $16,000 in average annual family income compared to families led by high school graduates; a Bachelor’s degree can boost average annual family income by more than $43,000. However, low-income young adults who can benefit most from educational attainment are also the ones least likely to enroll in and complete a postsecondary program.  

Mark Bivins, Amarillo Area Foundation Past Board Chairman stated, “Amarillo has risen to national significance in being selected by MDC and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to participate in Partners for Postsecondary Success. I would like to commend the committee members involved in preparing our proposal for an outstanding job of vetting the issues that face our postsecondary population. I feel a great sense of pride in the dedication and cooperation that the participants showed in the preparation of our proposal, and I would also like to give a particular note of thanks the staff of The Amarillo Area Foundation, who will be the lead organization of the partnership, for their leadership.”

“Amarillo is poised to be a beacon city in our work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I am very excited about the opportunities that lie ahead and honored to have been chosen by such an esteemed institution.”

The Gates Foundation awarded the Amarillo Area Foundation a grant of $100,000 as the lead organization to coordinate local community partners in a seven-month planning phase for an implementation proposal for up to $1.5 million in additional funding to launch local community initiatives to improve the number of low-income youth who by age 26 earn a postsecondary education credential that leads to gainful employment.

Representatives of the following organizations, corporations and institutions have made commitments as planning and implementation partners for this community initiative: Texas Health Institute, Amarillo College, West Texas A&M University, Amarillo Independent School District, Catholic Family Service, Leadership Amarillo and Canyon, Amarillo Economic Development Corporation, Panhandle Workforce Solutions, Panhandle Twenty/20, City of Amarillo, La Fiesta Grande, Northwest Texas Healthcare System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Baptist St. Anthony’s Healthcare System, United Way of Amarillo & Canyon, and Harrington Regional Medical Center, Inc.  Amarillo Area Foundation representatives Angela Lust and Charlotte Rhodes will serve as co-directors of the planning process and development of the implementation proposal while Katharyn Wiegand serves as project coordinator.  

The partners will engage others and help develop community leaders throughout organizations and systems in a dynamic endeavor that urges young people toward completion and credentialing, while urging employers and entrepreneurs toward job creation and economic growth.  There will be an effort to involve a large circle of the community in defining and responding to important points of intervention along the success continuum.  

“We were impressed by the clear commitment and sense of urgency that community partners in our four cities showed for improving postsecondary success rates and better equipping their low-income young adults with job-ready skills,” said Bonnie Gordon, a senior program director at MDC and Partners for Postsecondary Success project leader.  “Amarillo is a significant economic intersection for a five-state region and one of the few large cities in the Texas panhandle with both a university and a community college. It has great potential to serve as an effective role model for others wrestling with these very complex issues.” 

“As our economy is demanding increasing skills, the economic viability of cities is directly tied to the education of their citizens,” said Hilary Pennington, director of Education, Postsecondary Success, and Special Initiatives for the Gates Foundation. “The lessons learned though the Partners for Postsecondary Success project will provide valuable insight into what communities can do to make college completion happen.”

Texas and North Carolina are two of several states where the Gates Foundation is focusing its Postsecondary Success work, due to the high numbers of low-income young people who reside in those states.

The other cities selected to participate in the initiative include Brownsville, TX; Charlotte, NC; and Raleigh, NC.

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The Amarillo Area Foundation
The Amarillo Area Foundation is the only community foundation serving Texas’ northernmost 26 counties.  Since its inception in 1957 and into the future, the Foundation provides grants and services to strengthen nonprofit organizations and the services they deliver.  The Foundation currently manages 97 scholarship funds and the ACE scholarship program for students at Palo Duro and Caprock High Schools.  A $5 million campaign is currently in progress to expand the program to designated feeder schools in the Tascosa cluster.  In 2009, the Foundation awarded $888,483 in scholarship funds.  

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

MDC is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Chapel Hill, N.C., that has been publishing research and developing programs focused on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and addressing structural inequity for more than 40 years.  MDC’s focus is on: defining gaps and mobilizing leaders to create a will for change; demonstrating sustainable solutions and developing them into effective models; and then incubating them so they can be replicated at scale for maximum impact.  For more information, go to www.mdcinc.org.