AC receives $1 million grant for innovative work-based learning program


By Joe Wyatt

The Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation is excited to announce a $1 million grant to Amarillo College.

This grant—the largest the Foundation has made to date—will support the Texas community college’s innovative Adams Earn & Learn Program, a multiyear effort to accelerate work-based learning in the Texas Panhandle region. The pilot program will create a proof of concept for healthcare and STEM programs with the long-term goal of expanding work-based learning opportunities into all program areas.

The Thoma Foundation grant will support coordinators for the program, stipends for STEM and healthcare students, and project evaluation.

More than 300 students will be served in the first year of the program, which launches in fall of 2021. Amarillo College aims to reach 10,000 candidates by 2030. With the program’s broad eligibility, the College and the Thoma Foundation are confident that the program will transform the lives of underemployed adults in the Texas Panhandle. Providing an alternative to traditional four-year college, Amarillo College will also open fast-track pathways for local high school students into high-earning, desirable careers.

“Amarillo College and I are incredibly blessed to work alongside such visionaries as Carl Thoma and the Thoma Foundation to reimagine the economy of rural America and redefine higher education,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, Amarillo College President, said. “By positioning the future of learning to intersect with a work-based Earn and Learn model, Amarillo College and the Thoma Foundation are creating a structure that could be the innovation to save higher education from itself.”

Historically focused on the arts, the Thoma Foundation has grown its education grantmaking in response to COVID-19 and the inequities the pandemic has exacerbated. Since late 2020, the Thoma Foundation has awarded over $800,000 in grants that support arts education, career and technical education (CTE), college access, or entrepreneurship development. The Thoma Foundation continues to fund pivotal arts and educational initiatives in rural and underserved communities across the American Southwest, particularly in Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma.

Community colleges stand out as key institutions in rural areas, providing educational opportunities for diverse learners and driving economic opportunity and engagement. The Thoma Foundation selected Amarillo College as its first major higher education partner because of the College’s innovative student success initiatives, including the nationally recognized Culture of Caring initiative. 

“We are impressed by the entrepreneurial leadership at Amarillo College and believe this initiative has the potential to disrupt higher education,” says founder Carl Thoma. “The Earn and Lean program recognizes the importance of not only aligning the workforce to current local market labor needs, but also future-proofing the workforce by building relevant technology skills. We’re proud to be partners in making Amarillo and the broader Texas Panhandle an attractive location for new economic development and a wonderful place to live.”

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