National Award Gives Kudos to Community Colleges

Lori Johnston | January 2, 2012

When searching for a community college, you want to select a school that cares about students being successful with the coursework and after graduation, in finding well-paying jobs.

The Aspen Institute

Part of your research should include the honors that schools have received, and here’s a new one we wanted to bring to your attention. The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was launched in 2011, and as more people look to commercial colleges for affordability and convenience, it is great to see these schools receiving the spotlight.

The award recognized community colleges with strong results in student learning, completion, equity, and post-college employment and earnings.

The winner was … Florida’s Valencia College. The Orlando school has some pretty impressive numbers, with more than half of its full-time students either graduating or transferring within three years of entering college. And 30 percent of the students who enter Valencia transfer to a four-year college.

Here’s an incredible story from the writeup about Valencia College that shows how the school (which received a $600,000 award) has been a source for local employers, helping connect students with job openings.

“Jim Lipscomb, a Northrop Grumman manager in Orlando, used to spend half the year on the road, looking for workers qualified to help make laser sights for military hardware. Competition was fierce—a good candidate had five or ten job offers to choose from—and those he hired often left Florida in months, homesick for Texas or Idaho or Iowa.

Now, Lipscomb doesn’t need to leave town. Over the last several years, he has hired nearly every laser technician who has come out of Valencia, which created a program in response to growing industry demand. Valencia is doing its part to fill a national shortage of laser technicians while linking local residents to well-paying jobs for local residents.”

Here are the nine finalists for the Aspen Prize, which also are partnering with businesses and creating innovative programs for their community college students. You can read each of the finalists’ stories, too, to see what those schools are doing to stand out.

• Lake Area Technical Institute (South Dakota)

• Miami Dade College (Florida)

• Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

• Mott Community College (Michigan)

• Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar

• Santa Barbara City College (California)

• Southwest Texas Junior College

• Valencia College (Florida)

• Walla Walla Community College (Washington)

• West Kentucky Community and Technical College

Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who co-chaired the jury that selected the winners, made these comments in connection with the award:”Community colleges for too long have been under-appreciated. By 2018, more than 60 percent of American jobs will require some kind of post-secondary qualification, and community colleges are uniquely poised to answer the needs of both employers and students looking for economic security.”

If you’re attending any of these schools or planning on starting there soon, definitely check out how you can benefit from their initiatives that are worthy of the spotlight!

-Lori Johnston

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