Top Ten Community Colleges Named

Community college leaders are loath to embrace ranking systems, believing that their institutions are too diverse, their missions too different from one another, to make such distinctions meaningful.
But that has not stopped the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program from releasing a list of what it has identified as the country’s top ten community colleges — on the very same day that U.S. News & World Report released it’s much-ballyhooed ranking of four-year colleges.
While the U.S. News Report entitles the winners only to bragging rights, the Aspen Institute’s offers a much more tangible reward. It will eventually name a single best community college in the county, and with that comes a $1 million prize that will be shared with as many as three runners-up.
The Institute’s announcement culminates a process that began last October at the White House Community College Summit. In an effort to identify best practices at community colleges, and highlight the need for the institutions to improve outcomes, the Institute said it would embark on a process of identifying the country’s best community colleges.
The original pool of 1,200 community colleges was pared to 120 last April, based on data analyzed by an advisory committee. The data focused on college completion, considered from three perspectives, the Institute said: performance, factoring in retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 “full time equivalent” students; improvement of completion rates over time; and equity, based on records for completion outcomes for disadvantaged students.
The list of 120 colleges was winnowed down to ten by nine-member Finalist Selection Committee, comprised of former community college presidents, policy experts and researchers.
“They identified institutions that deliver exceptional and improving completion rates, and labor-market and learning outcomes, following a review of new data collected from applications submitted by eligible institutions in June,” the Institute said in a news release.
The Aspen Institute’s competition represents the first national recognition of the accomplishments of community colleges, which have seen their enrollments swell and their stature grow during the persistent economic downturn.
“All the community colleges selected today represent the best of what we all want from these institutions,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “They are relentlessly focused on three non-negotiable outcomes – a high bar for learning, a focus on college completion, and real attention to preparing their students for 21st century jobs. Needless to say, no institution is perfect, and each school in America – from elementary through higher education – has its own challenges – particularly in today’s economic climate. But, we believe that these ten embody many of the elements that all community colleges should seek to emulate.”
Here are the ten winners, listed in alphabetical order:
Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, S.D.
Miami Dade College, Miami, Fla.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston, Miss.
Mott Community College, Flint, Mich.
Northeast Iowa Community College, Calmar, Iowa
Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, Calif.
Southwest Texas Junior College, Uvalde, Texas
Valencia College, Orlando, Fla.
Walla Community College, Walla Walla, Wash.
West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, Ky.
The grand prize winner and runners-up will be selected by a “prize jury” co-chaired by John Engler, former Michigan governor and current president of the Business Roundtable, and Richard Riley, former secretary of education and governor of South Carolina.
Wyner emphasized that this competition offers an unprecedented opportunity to spotlight and celebrate excellence at a time when community college success is more important to the nation than ever before. “It’s pretty simple, but the stakes are high,” he said. “In an era where a college degree is the ticket to the middle class, real educational opportunity for our citizens and real economic growth for our country will depend on our community colleges.”


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Covering All Things Community College
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