Washington, DC, December 12, 2011 - Highlighting the need to improve student learning and graduation rates in community colleges - leading to good jobs - the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program today announced that Valencia College in Orlando, Florida, is the nation's top community college and honored four "finalists with distinction" from an original pool of over 1,000.
Valencia will receive a $600,000 prize to support its programs while each "finalist with distinction" will receive $100,000. The Finalists with Distinction are: Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD); Miami Dade College (Miami, FL); Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA); and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY).
Dean of Instruction and Chief Financial Officer Hector Gonzales represented Southwest Texas Junior College at the awards ceremony held Dec. 12 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, for the top 10 colleges named finalists in the first-ever competition.
"Of course it is disappointing to not be one of the prize winners," Gonzales said. "However, we did make it to the top ten and that is an accomplishment we all take great pride in."
The announcement follows a rigorous, yearlong effort by the Aspen Institute to assemble and review an unprecedented collection of data on community colleges and the critical elements of student success: student learning, degree completion and transfer, equity and employment/earnings after college.
This is the first national recognition of extraordinary accomplishments at individual community colleges. The Prize celebrates these top performers both to elevate the community college sector nationwide and help other institutions understand how to improve outcomes for the seven million students - nearly half of all undergraduates in post-secondary education - working toward degrees and certificates in community colleges.
Leaders from across the fields of education, business, labor and philanthropy participated in the announcement ceremony, including Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, a longtime educator; Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Aspen Institute President and CEO and Steve Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson; John Engler, former Governor of Michigan and President of the Business Roundtable; and highly respected former Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor Richard Riley.
The naming of the winner follows an announcement of the ten finalists in September and the project's unveiling at the White House Community College Summit in October 2010.
"Valencia College is a shining example of what really matters in community colleges, and that's helping students succeed through learning, graduating and getting good jobs," said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program. "The Prize Jury was especially impressed by how faculty, administrators and staff all take responsibility for success of a very diverse student body. Valencia graduates are employed at higher rates than the graduates of any of the other Aspen finalists despite entering a local labor market with double digit unemployment rates. Valencia's unique culture of continuous improvement and innovation has a real impact on student outcomes that is amazing to see."
Nearly half of Valencia's students are underrepresented minorities - African American, Hispanic/Latino or Native American - and many are low-income. Yet, more than 50 percent graduate or transfer within three years of entering college, compared to under 40 percent for community colleges nationally.
Welcome to Southwest Texas Junior College, one of the top ten community colleges in the United States! More →