The current Amarillo College was established in 1929 as Amarillo Junior College. Amarillo had failed in earlier efforts to get a state college and in 1929 was the largest city in Texas without a public college. Amarilloans, led by George Ordway and James O. Guleke, introduced a house bill that established junior college districts; Amarillo Junior College was the first college established under this act. Governor Daniel J. Moody signed the bill on April 2, 1929, and Amarillo began its campaign on April 3, 1929. The college started in September 1929 with B. E. Masters as president and was accredited rapidly, in April 1930 by the Association of Texas Colleges and Universities and in 1933 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
Vocational courses were offered in the 1930s, when a specific demand developed, but the college had no continuing programs. In 1939, in line with Southern Association recommendations that the junior colleges begin to stress vocational courses, a flying school was established to train pilots under the authority of the Civil Aeronautics Administration, and in 1941 a National Defense Vocational Training School was started to supply personnel to defense industries during World War II. After the war all programs expanded steadily. A technical school was established in 1960 and a biomedical school in 1967.
In 1951 Amarillo College became the first publicly supported college in Texas to admit Blacks to undergraduate classes. It began courses in radio in 1949 and in television in 1956 in its own studios. In 1962 it became the first junior college in the state to offer courses in data processing, and for many years it was the only college in the state offering a major in photographic technology. It was among the first to have Bible chairs established adjacent to the campus. In 1965 AC was the only junior college in the eleven southern states accorded a commendation of excellence by the Southern Association. In 1984, after twelve years of work by Richard Howard and the biology department, Amarillo College opened the largest natural history museum of any two-year college in the country, with a public collection valued at over $1 million and a research division that includes over 26,000 identified insects, plus hundreds of spiders, plants, mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and other specimens.
On campus is the Amarillo Art Center, a three-building complex (art museum, museum building, and concert hall) designed by Edward Durrell Stone Associates. The center, opened in 1972, provides a major focus for the arts. The library has a large southwestern collection and is a member—along with various academic and public libraries in the Texas Panhandle—of the Harrington Library Consortium. The Amarillo College Foundation, established in 1962, had grown to $1 million by August 1985.
From seven faculty members and eighty-six students the first year, Amarillo College grew by 1984 to 220 full-time and 471 part-time faculty members. Full-time enrollment in fall 1990 was 5,952; the college enrolled many additional students in trade-related short courses and community-service classes. Classes were first held in a wing of the municipal auditorium. In 1937 the college moved to its own campus on Washington Street. In 1966 the college established its West Campus next to the Harrington Regional Medical Center in response to growing demand for allied health and occupational technology programs. A third campus on Polk Street houses the Business and Industry Center. In 1995 the state legislature transferred Texas State Technical College–Amarillo to Amarillo College; the facility, renamed the Amarillo Technical Center Campus, continued to offer technical education. The college opened a new Moore County Campus in Dumas in 2000. In the fall of that year enrollment was 20,111 with a faculty of 119. Fred L. Williams was the president.