Familiar faces — and a few new ones — among Aspen Prize finalists

The Aspen Institute has announced finalists for its 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which can be bundled into threes: Three are from Florida (two of which have made the finalist list three times), three are from Texas and three are making the top 10 list for the first time.

The prize — which has been awarded every two years since 2011 and comes with $1 million to be shared with the winner and up to four finalists with distinction — recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 public community colleges nationwide.

The 2019 finalists are:

Two finalists — Florida’s Broward and Indian River — have been finalists in three Prize cycles. Both were Finalists with Distinction in 2017. Newcomers to the list are Palo Alto, Pierce and Mitchell Tech.

The winner and finalists with distinction will be announced in April 2019.

Back again

In selecting colleges, Aspen assesses community colleges’ achievements in four areas critical to student success: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings for graduates, and access and success for minority and low-income students. Through four cycles of awarding the prize, Aspen has gathered and published data and qualitative assessments to help other community colleges dramatically improve student success.

A press release from Aspen announcing the finalists highlighted the colleges’ efforts, which include program pathways and additional student services, from advising to faculty professional development. San Jacinto, for example, has clear pathways for every degree that are aligned with local employers’ needs and projected growth areas. Pierce scaled a structured program to support faculty in improving teaching practices and student learning. Kingsborough increased help to students facing non-academic barriers, such as child care, housing and transportation.

Those efforts led to successes in graduation and transfer rates. For example, Pasadena City had a rate of transfer to four-year institutions of 33 percent, which is 8 percentage points above the national average, according to Aspen. Broward’s 46 percent graduation/transfer rate for students of color is 12 percentage points above the national average. Meanwhile, Odessa over five years has more than doubled its three-year graduation/transfer rate from 15 percent to 37 percent.

Over the next year, Aspen will conduct a review of the finalists that will include examining data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce and equitable outcomes for all students, as well as multi-day site visits to each institution.

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