Last week the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced the finalists of the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Four honorees are active members of the ATD Network, and are continually setting the standard for community college excellence. Learn more about the institutions recognized by the Aspen Prize this year and how their cultures of equity, inquiry, and care set them apart.
San Antonio College (SAC) was the winner of the 2021 Aspen Prize. The college is part of the Alamo Colleges District, which has been in the ATD Network since 2004 and which is also a Leader College of Distinction.
SAC embodies the idea of being a “student-ready college,” with faculty and staff across the institution keeping the success of their students as a top priority. In a blog post sharing stories of students and faculty at SAC, the Aspen Prize committee wrote: “At SAC, there is a feeling of family, a tangible sense and concrete expectation that everyone in the community is responsible for students’ well-being, inside and outside the classroom.”
As part of Alamo Colleges, SAC was a participating institution in the Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative, a comprehensive three-year study which demonstrated the significant benefits that OER courses can bring to an institution — from lower financial barriers to higher course completion. SAC continues to innovate in teaching and learning to incorporate inclusive and culturally responsive pedagogy in teaching and learning throughout its campus.
Broward College was a Finalist With Distinction this year. An ATD Leader College and as one of eight colleges participating in the Racial Equity Leadership Academy, Broward actively sets an example of a community college as more than just an institution of learning, but a hub of growth and opportunity for the whole community.
The Aspen Prize committee highlighted Broward’s guided pathways as an example of the college’s commitment to student success. “Every major comes with a program map that lays out each course to take” on paths to graduation as well as to transfer to four-year institutions The college is also rigorously addressing barriers to access for first-year or first-time students: In a plenary session at DREAM 2021 in February, Broward president Dr. Gregory Haile discussed the college’s efforts to intentionally lower barriers to entry for people in lower-income parts of the community that Broward serves. When detailing the school’s strategy to reach every potential student, he said, “The idea here is that we need to smother these communities with educational opportunities.” One of the themes at this year’s DREAM conference was setting a bold, new access agenda — Broward gives peer institutions an effective example of what that agenda can look like in practice.
San Jacinto College (San Jac), another Finalist With Distinction, has been a member of the ATD Network since 2006. San Jac is also a Leader College of Distinction, one of a handful of community colleges in the ATD Network that have demonstrated significant improvement in student outcomes through rigorous, data-centered reporting. But the Aspen Institute recognized San Jac not only for its student success and completion, but for the work the college puts into ensuring students will thrive after they graduate.
By forming partnerships with local industries and transfer institutions, the college is able to assess how its graduates are faring, identify successes and opportunities for improvement, and “take actionable steps to improve programs and practices that prepare students for life after San Jac,” the Aspen Prize committee wrote. The college acts as a collaborative member of the community, working to support students through their higher education journey and beyond.
Amarillo College was named a Rising Star in the 2021 Aspen Prize. The college was among the first-ever cohort of Leader Colleges of Distinction in 2018, and in 2019 it was one of two institutions presented with the Leah Meyer Austin Award, the highest honor that ATD can bestow upon a member college.
Since 2014, Amarillo College has implemented transformational changes in its use of data and its approach to addressing poverty, an issue the college had identified as having the greatest impact on student success. Working with community partners, it launched a web of nonacademic interventions and holistic student supports to address poverty barriers. And while many colleges provide student supports, the Aspen Prize committee noted that “what sets AC apart is that every employee knows it’s their job to connect students to whatever they need.”
This level of care and intention, ensuring that students not only have access to support but are actively made aware of and connected to that support, has certainly paid off: Amarillo’s graduation and transfer rate increased by 18 percentage points over a five-year time period.
ATD was proud to see the hard work and culture of care evident in its Network colleges recognized by the Aspen Prize. These institutions are taking actionable steps to increase the capacity of community colleges to act as engines of student support and community growth.
We’re building our next cohort now and invite you to become part of our growing national network of colleges that are committed to improving student success for their students. Learn more about joining the ATD Network.