Two Florida colleges share Aspen Prize

Edwin Massey (left), president of Indian River State College, and Eduardo Padrón, president of Miami Dade College, share the Aspen Prize (Photo: Ellie Ashford)

Two Florida colleges – Indian River State College (IRSC) and Miami Dade College (MDC) – have been named the 2019 winners of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The colleges will share $700,000 of the total $1 million award. This is the second time the Aspen Prize was shared by two colleges.

“Our mantra is ‘Student success is the most important thing at Indian River,’” President Edwin Massey said at the awards ceremony Tuesday hosted by the Aspen Institute. “That statement is on all our publications, it’s the major focus of every conversation we have.”

Massey, who has been president at IRSC for three decades, said he believes when students feel important, they are motivated to complete, graduate and move on to jobs with good salaries.

IRSC, which was an Aspen Prize finalist in 2015 and a finalist-with-distinction in 2017, has a 56 percent transfer rate, which is far above the national average of 32 percent. Among students who transfer, 52 percent attain a bachelor’s degree, beating the national average of 42 percent. In addition, IRSC alumni earn an average salary of $41,492 five years after graduation, compared to $38,717 for all employees in the region.

Serving the community

MDC, the largest community college in the country, was lauded for providing a clear path to economic and social mobility for its diverse student population. The college has a 43 percent graduation and transfer rate for students of color, and a 47 percent bachelor’s attainment rate for transfer students. MDC was an Aspen Prize finalist-with-distinction in 2011.

“Open access and academic excellence go hand in hand,” said Eduardo Padrón, who plans to retire this year after serving as the college’s president for a quarter of a century. “The future of America is extrinsically linked to what we do,” he said, calling community colleges “true factories of this nation” and “great equalizers.”

Strong outcomes

The Aspen Institute recognized three colleges with Rising Star awards and each receive $100,000:

  • Odessa College (Texas) was noted for its innovative strategies to help students stay in college, including eight-week semesters.
  • Pierce College Fort Stellacoom (Washington) eliminated “micro-barriers” to student success by providing emergency aid, transit passes and childcare and eliminating unnecessary fees and arbitrary deadlines.
  • Palo Alto College (Texas) has a strong guided pathways program and greatly increased the number of advisors.

Another five colleges were Aspen Award finalists: Broward College (Florida), Kingsborough Community College (New York), Mitchell Technical Institute (South Dakota), Pasadena City College (California) and San Jacinto College (Texas).

The Aspen Prize review committee looked at more than 1,000 community colleges and invited 150 to apply.

In selecting the winners, the reviewers looked at completion, labor market outcomes, equity, and what colleges “are doing intentionally to deliver high-quality student learning,” said Josh Wyner of the Aspen Institute. “And we asked students, ‘What is the college doing to ensure you succeed?’”

Common threads

The 10 finalists are achieving strong success rates, including graduation rates of 60 to 70 percent, Wyner said. They are also adopting the pathways model, creating clear course sequences and providing plenty of advising.

But all that isn’t enough, Wyner said. Excellent colleges work hard on closing equity gaps, improving teaching practices and giving students “a sense of belonging in the classroom.”

In addition to their roles as preparing students to transfer and providing job training, they are important for knowledge creation and for being “anchors in their community,” Wyner said.

About the Author

Ellie Ashford
is associate editor of Community College Daily.