2 Florida community colleges win Aspen Prize

April 4, 2019
Indian River State College and Miami Dade College have been chosen by the Aspen Institute, which recognizes the top community colleges in the United States.

Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Fla., and Miami Dade College in Miami have won the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in recognition of high achievement and performance among the nation's community colleges.

The Aspen Prize is awarded every two years and recognizes outstanding institutions selected from more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide.

The Aspen Institute says the prize program 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,” says Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program and an Aspen Institute vice president. "Miami Dade works tirelessly on reforms that have improved the graduation rate and virtually erased the achievement gap for student of color."

Aspen also has given three colleges the “Rising Star” award for their strong record of improvement: Odessa College in Odessa, Texas, Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas, and Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood, Wash.

Indian River and Miami Dade, will receive $350,000 each; the three "Rising Star" schools will each get $100,000,

“Community colleges enroll nearly 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduates – that’s 6 million students working towards degrees and certificates, most of whom strive to earn a bachelor’s degree,” says s Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University and one of the leaders of the jury that selected the honorees. “As a leader of a four-year institution, I am encouraged to see the many ways Aspen Prize finalists have designed thoughtful approaches to make sure students are well prepared for transfer."

Indian River State College was an Aspen Prize finalist in 2015 and a Finalist-with-Distinction in 2017. Strong outcomes are the result of two strategic efforts at the school, the Institute says. The first is to provide strong guidance so that students develop academic plans clearly mapping a path to transfer without losing time or credits.

The second is the college's decision to create 17 of its own bachelor’s degree programs. Indian Rivers leaders recognized the need to create educational opportunities beyond the two-year degree. The result: large numbers of students transfer “internally,” including many who may not have otherwise considered pursuing a four-year degree. 

Miami Dade, a Finalist-with-Distinction for the Aspen Prize in 2011, provides a clear path to economic and social mobility for its students, the Institute says. The college has eight campuses; nearly three-quarters of students are Hispanic and 16 percent are African-American.

In pursuit of providing all students an exceptional learning opportunity, the college has transformed the student experience over the past decade by building clear program maps, redesigning academic and nonacademic supports, improving developmental education, and strengthening faculty professional development. 

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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