At a time when many people debate the quality of education Florida students are receiving, this recognition is evidence that many of our community colleges are making the grade.
The Aspen Institute recently announced the winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Santa Barbara Community College (CA) and Walla Walla Community (WA) College were named co-winners. Two Florida colleges, Santa Fe College in Gainesville and Broward College in Ft. Lauderdale, were finalists for the prize. Success rates at Santa Fe exceed the national average not just for students overall but also for the one-quarter of students who are black or Hispanic. And over time, Broward has achieved steady increases in retention, graduation, and transfer rates.
Winners and finalists were chosen from a group of 120 colleges selected by the Aspen Institute. Florida had 15 colleges in this group – more than any other state. And the number of Florida colleges could have been larger, except for an adjustment made by the judges to allow no more than half of the institutions in each state to appear in the list. This adjustment affected only Florida and Kentucky.
In the 2011 contest, Florida’s Valencia College was selected as the winner and Miami Dade College was named a “finalist with distinction”. Fourteen Florida community colleges were eligible for the prize in 2011 – again, more than any other state. Valencia College was among the top 120 Community Colleges again in 2013, but because they won in 2011 they were not eligible to win in 2013. A total of twelve Florida Community Colleges were included in the top 120 in both 2011 and 2013. Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey was one of the three Florida colleges added to the list in 2013.
The Aspen Prize was created to recognize community colleges with outstanding academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize is intended to honor excellence, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress.