The $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.
The winners of the 2019 prize, which were selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide, both come from the Sunshine State.
Indian River State College and Miami Dade College were recently named winners of the 2019 Aspen Prize, which assesses institutional performance in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, success after graduation in the labor market and in transfer to four-year institutions, and equity in access and success for students of color and low-income students.
“Indian River has among the strongest graduation rates for both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees in the nation. Miami Dade works tirelessly on reforms that have improved the graduation rate and virtually erased the achievement gap for students of color,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program and an Aspen Institute vice president, in a press release. “Most importantly, the data make clear both community colleges do a great job of preparing students for what comes next, whether that be pursuit of a bachelor’s degree or landing a good job.”
Each winner will receive $350,000. Additionally, Odessa College (Odessa, Texas), Palo Alto College (San Antonio, Texas), and Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom (Lakewood, Washington), were awarded the “Rising Star” prize for their strong record of improvement and $100,000 each. Broward College in Fort Lauderdale was among this year’s 10 finalists.
The Aspen Prize was established in 2011 and is awarded every two years.
Indian River State College (IRSC) — which was cited as an Aspen Prize “Finalist with Distinction” in 2017 and awarded $100,000 — is located in Fort Pierce and has an enrollment of 24,300 students. The school was recognized this year for providing “strong guidance that allowed students to develop academic plans clearly mapping a path to transfer without losing time or credits,” per the report. IRSC was also praised for building 17 of its own bachelor’s degree programs to create educational opportunities beyond two-year degrees for its students; the nearest four-year university is more than 60 miles away.
More than half of all IRSC students transfer into a bachelor’s program, and more than half of those earn their degree.
“The 2019 Aspen Prize is a credit to the people of Indian River State College and the outstanding communities we serve,” said Dr. Edwin Massey, President of IRSC, in a statement. “From our Trustees, to our community partners, to our employees, to our dedicated students, IRSC is enriched with some of the most incredible people supporting our college mission, and this distinct honor validates their commitment on a national level. Bringing home the Aspen Prize is truly a celebration of their hard work.”
Miami Dade College (MDC), a “Finalist with Distinction” in 2011, is the nation’s largest community college, with more than 95,000 students enrolled annually. MDC was praised for playing “a critical and inspirational role in providing an on-ramp to higher education for students who may otherwise have never found one.” The vast majority of MDC students come from low-income households and are the first in their families to attend college, according to the report. Nearly 75% of its students are Hispanic and 16% are Black. The college also enrolls more than 17,000 immigrant students each year from more than 150 countries.
The college has a 43% graduation and transfer rate for students of color, compared to the national average of 35%. Earlier this year, FCAN highlighted MDC’s mix of math academic supports designed to help students succeed in credit-earning courses.
“This award is an affirmation of what we’ve been aspiring to for so many years at MDC, mainly to ensure open access and academic excellence can go hand-in-hand,” said Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, MDC’s president, in a statement.