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2015 Aspen Prize names Florida’s Santa Fe College as high-achieving example among community colleges


Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., is the winner of the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, a national recognition of achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The prize includes a $800,000 award.

The award was presented at a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington on Wednesday.

Two finalists with distinction were also honored at the ceremony. They were Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D., and West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, Ky. In addition, Kennedy-King College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago system, received a “rising star” award for rapid improvement in student completion. Each will receive $100,000 prizes in the biennial competition.   

Speakers at the event included Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, a leader among the states on the question of community colleges and the first state to offer free community college education.

Kresge provided funding for the prize, which is also supported by the Joyce, Lumina and Bank of America Charitable foundations. Kresge works to expand opportunity in America’s cities. Its Education Program promotes postsecondary access and success for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students.

“Aspen Prize winner Santa Fe and the finalists offer lessons in how community colleges large and small can provide an outstanding, affordable, job-relevant education for every student,” says Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

Wyner notes that Santa Fe:

  • Does exceptional work keeping students on track to graduation with degrees that hold “incredible value.”
  • Is rigorous in preparing students to transfer to nearby University of Florida and other four-year universities.
  • Proactively works with local employers to meet changing workforce needs.

“Far too few community college students who intend to earn a degree ever graduate,” notes Kresge’s Caroline Altman Smith. “The Aspen Prize winners demonstrate that significant change and improvement in graduation rates are possible,” says Smith, a senior program officer. “Aspen is playing a critical role encouraging wide replication of successful strategies by publicizing their successful tools and techniques.”

Santa Fe College boasts a graduation/transfer rate of 62 percent.  Lake Area Technical Institute and West Kentucky Community and Technical College have rates of 73 percent and 48 percent respectively. Kennedy-King College tripled its graduation/transfer rate between 2010 and 2015.

In addition to certificate and degree completion, the Aspen Prize award considers student learning, the employment and earnings of graduates, and high levels of access and success for minorities. For instance:

  • Lake Area Technical Institute counted 98 percent of graduates as employed or continuing education six months after graduation
  • Kennedy-King College has a 42 percent graduation rate for underrepresented minorities compared to 34 percent for those groups nationally. The Kennedy-King student body is almost entirely made up of underrepresented minority students.
  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College reports no graduation/transfer gap between white students and students of color.