The Aspen Institute recently released its top 10 finalists for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The award, which enjoyed its inaugural year last year, has quickly become the gold standard for community colleges across the country. The 10 schools on this list have demonstrated outstanding achievement in the areas of completion rates, learning outcomes, workforce preparedness, and success of at-risk students. These 10 colleges were selected from more than 1,000 institutions that have received consistently high marks in these four areas throughout the past academic year.
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
The Aspen Institute initiated its award program last year, in response to calls by the White House to raise the bar on higher education. Community colleges serve as a practical place for many students, from those graduating from high school unable to afford a four-year university to professionals looking for additional career training. With so much focus placed on the role of community colleges over the past four years, the Aspen Institute established a plan to recognize and reward those schools that set the example and the standard for the rest of the community colleges nationwide.
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence recognizes one winner each year, as well as four finalists. Those chosen by the Aspen Institute will split a prize package of $1 million. Last year’s winner, and the first recipient of the Aspen Prize, was Valencia Community College in Orlando, Florida. This year, two more Florida schools have made the final cut to appear on the top 10 list. According to the Aspen Institute website, the prize money is funded by the Aspen Institute and its partners: Lumina and W.K. Kellogg Foundations, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase, the Joyce, and America Achieves.
And the Winners Are…
The final 10 community colleges vying for the Aspen Prize 2013 include:
- Santa Fe College, Gainesville, Florida
- Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, Texas
- Kingsborough Community College, Brooklyn, New York
- College of the Ouachitas, Malvern, Arkansas
- Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, Washington
- Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, South Dakota
- Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Cumberland, Kentucky
- Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
- Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, California
- West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, Kentucky
“All the community colleges selected today have demonstrated strong performance and improvement when it comes to equipping students with access to the knowledge and skills they need to succeed,” Josh Wyner, executive director for the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence program, told the Community College Weekly Blog.
Santa Fe College Shares Florida Spotlight with Broward
Florida boasts two schools on the Aspen Institute’s final 10 this year: Santa Fe College and Broward College. According to Alachua County Today, Santa Fe was chosen primarily for its outstanding graduation rates and workforce placement record. First established in 1965, Santa Fe has grown to encompass both four-year and two-year degree programs. The school currently has around 18,000 enrolled in degree programs, and another 12,000 taking non-credit courses.
Lake Tech Repeats Performance on Top 10
Lake Area Technical Institute is celebrating its second position on the Aspen Institute’s top 10 list. Last year, Lake Tech was named a Top Five Finalist with Distinction, due to high graduation and workforce placement rates. The school’s website states that Lake Tech is one of four technical schools included on the Aspen Institute list this year.
“Lake Area Technical Institute not only leads the nation in graduation rates but is also remarkably successful at connecting its graduates to competitive-wage jobs,” Wyner was reported as saying on the Lake Tech website. “LATI is delivering success to students and the community, listening to what the labor market is saying and arming its students with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, and that’s good for everyone’s bottom line.”
Kentucky Technical Schools Also Make the Grade
Kentucky is another state boasting two entries to the final list: Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College and West Kentucky Community and Technical College. According to the KCTCS website, West Kentucky was also named as one of the five finalists in last year’s award. The Aspen Institute cites the school’s strong leadership has effectively identified and broken down the barriers to student success, which has translated to higher graduation and job placement rates. Southeast Kentucky is also a shining example of how community colleges can help residents in depressed areas rise above the conditions and excel in the workforce.
Brazosport College Helps Fill in the Gaps
This Texas community college was recognized by the Aspen Institute for its ability to close gaps students have when they graduate from high school in this community. The school has also improved considerably in its ability to help students complete their degree programs, particularly minority students.
“Brazosport is dedicated to student success,” Wyner stated on the school’s website. “It evaluates student learning outcomes for all students in every credit course, identifying the instructors, classes, and curricula that are most effective in driving student achievement.”
The Aspen Institute will now spend time assessing each of the 10 finalists, by visiting the campuses to gather additional data in those four categories, as well as student employment rates and earning outcome figures. The organization plans to announce the winner and the four finalists with distinction in March of next year. In the meantime, these 10 schools can bask in the recognition they have already received for their superb performance in helping students complete degrees and find good jobs after graduation.
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