by Jason Garcia
Updated 2 yearss ago
Six years ago, the Aspen Institute, an international non-profit leadership group, began awarding the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, given every two years.“Florida’s best community colleges are showing the nation that excellence is indeed within reach by teaching workforce-ready content during the community college years, graduating students into the workforce or a highly regarded four-year university via transfer, and placing students in good-paying jobs right after graduation,” noted the program’s founder and executive director, Joshua Wyner, in an op-ed article in the Sun-Sentinel.
The winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize in 2011 was Valencia College. The institute praised the Orlando college, which has more than 50,000 students, and its leaders for reworking longstanding processes to ensure that more students get off to strong academic starts by conducting earlier advising or orientation sessions and assigning courses further in advance. The institute also noted that nearly half of Valencia’s student body is comprised of minorities — and that more than 40% graduate or transfer within three years, compared to about one-third for all community colleges nationally.
Miami Dade College was named a “finalist with distinction” in 2011 among the immediate runners-up in the competition.
In 2013, both Broward College and Santa Fe College in Gainesville were Aspen finalists. Two years later, Santa Fe, which has nearly 17,000 students, won the top honor, with the institute singling the college out for helping students transfer to four-year schools and earn bachelor’s degrees at a rate more than double the national average. Indian River State College was a finalist that same year.
In the 2017 edition of the Aspen competition, a pair of Florida schools — Broward College and Indian River College — finished as the two first runners-up. (The winner was South Dakota’s Lake Area Technical Institute.)
The institute commended Broward, a diverse college with more than 60,000 students, for “advancing the quality of academic and student support offerings and deepening ties to four-year university partners.”
Indian River, which has about 24,000 students, “values affordability and strong customer service, delivering excellent student outcomes in exceptional workforce programs and strong liberal arts education programs,”according to the institute.
Florida colleges are earning other plaudits, too. The nursing program at Seminole State College in central Florida was recently ranked as the best in the nation by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.