San Antonio College wins Aspen Prize

The $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded every two years, was bestowed on San Antonio College in a virtual event Tuesday.

The Aspen Prize is the nation’s signature recognition for America’s community colleges — as President Obama called it, “basically the Oscars for great community colleges,” the organization’s website said.

San Antonio College won $600,000. A first-time finalist for the Aspen Prize, San Antonio College serves 35,000 students, two-thirds of whom are Hispanic, Black, or Native American — a far more diverse population than community colleges on average, a release said.

Its graduation and transfer rate improved nearly 20 points over four years, to 48 percent, 2 points above the national average, the release said.

Reflecting its unwavering dedication to advancing student success, Odessa is one of only six community colleges out of the more than 1,000 nationwide to be a top 10 finalist for the Aspen Prize three or more times, a news release said.

The Aspen Prize honors institutions with outstanding achievement in six areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, and leadership and institutional culture, the release said.

By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize aims to celebrate excellence, advance a focus on equitable student success, and stimulate replication of effective culture and practice, the release said.

“Aspen Prize finalists serve as models for what community colleges can achieve,” Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, said in the release. “Odessa College’s leaders, faculty, and staff have continued to demonstrate their deep dedication to improving students’ lives and serving the community. Most notably, the college is nationally known for developing concrete strategies so that faculty and staff have a deep sense of responsibility for student success, and students feel connected to the college and pass their classes at extraordinary rates.”

Finalists with distinction, recognized for rapid improvement, were Broward College in Florida, San Jacinto College in Texas and West Kentucky Community and Technical College. Each will receive $100,000.

Amarillo College was the winner of the Rising Star Award which has a $100,000 prize.

Rounding out the Aspen Prize top 10, named in spring 2020, are Borough of Manhattan Community College (New York), Odessa College (Texas), Pasadena City College (California), Pierce College (Washington), and Tallahassee Community College (Florida). The finalists —located in rural and urban areas with demographically different student bodies and a varied mix of technical workforce and academic transfer programs — prove that community colleges can achieve strong and improving student success rates in very different contexts.