College among finalists for Aspen Institute award

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By Dylan Villalon

The college has been selected as a top 10 finalist in the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.


The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit think tank that dedicates itself to cultivating and uplifting youth leadership around the world.

The nomination recognizes this college as top in the nation in several key areas, such as teaching and learning, success in the workforce and equitable outcomes for diverse student groups.

In addition to education, the institute assesses every aspect of society, including health, environmental science, social enterprise, communication and culture.

The institute selects from more than 1,000 community colleges in the nation.

“What these 10 finalists have in common is the ability to effectively identify, develop, and scale strategies to propel all students to not just complete college but also succeed after graduation,” Josh Wyner, executive director of the institute’s college excellence program, said.

The program works to identify successful strategies to be replicated worldwide.

“We have programs that are outlined to get students situated and started from the minute that they walk into the door to the moment they leave,” student life director Jacob Martinez said.

Whether that means them joining the workforce immediately after their two-year degree certification or transferring to a four-year institution, we have a path outlined for them so that they are not taking classes that they do not need to,” Martinez said.

A key contributor to the college’s success are the student learning outcome evaluations that are implemented both inside and outside of the classroom.

The evaluations are measurement strategies used by the college to gather data to determine whether services being provided are worthwhile.

“The actual evaluation could be anything. It could be a survey that students take. It could be one assignment,” Martinez said.

Other metrics like attendance and student club participation are analyzed and used by the college to plan for future semesters.

“It helps inform what we do, and ensure that what we do is successful and meaningful,” Martinez added.

In September, the institute conducted a virtual visit to the college to see the campus as well as interview faculty and students about their experiences.

The campus visit and student and staff interviews are a part of the final evaluation to determine the recipient of a grand prize of $1 million.

The prize has been awarded every two years since 2011.

The college has participated in the competition twice in the past four years, breaking the top 1,000 in 2017 and then falling into the top 100 community colleges in the nation in 2019.

In addition to the $1 million prize, awards will be given to distinguished finalists as well as a rising star.

Final results for the competition will be announced in May 2021 at an event in Washington, D.C.

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize include:

2019: Indian River State and Miami Dade colleges, Fla.

2017: Lake Area Technical College, S.D.

2015: Santa Fe College, Fla.

2013: Santa Barbara City College, Calif., and Walla Walla Community College, Wash.

2011: Valencia College, Fla.

Other nominees for the prize this year are:

  • Amarillo College
  • Broward College, Fla.
  • Borough of Manhattan Community College, N.Y.
  • Odessa College
  • Pasadena City College, Calif.
  • Pierce College, Wash.
  • San Jacinto College
  • Tallahassee Community College, Fla.
  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Ky.

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