The Aspen Institute announced today that Amarillo College in Texas and Imperial Valley College in Southern California won the coveted Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence this year. The award recognizes community colleges demonstrating high-quality and equitable outcomes for students. The two colleges, selected from among eight finalists, will each receive $500,000.
The awards were presented at a ceremony in Washington, D.C., by Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn University in Texas, and Jane Swift, former governor of Massachusetts, the co-chairs of the Aspen Prize jury.
“These two colleges tell the story of the incredible improvements in student success that can be achieved at community colleges, not just better graduation rates but outcomes that matter even more to students: getting the education they need to land a good job and succeeding in attaining a bachelor’s degree,” Swift said in a press release.
Both Amarillo and Imperial Valley serve rural areas and high percentages of students from underrepresented backgrounds. Students of color make up about half of Amarillo’s student body, and Imperial Valley’s students are 93 percent Hispanic.
Both institutions also boast strong student success outcomes. They substantially improved their graduation rates over a period of four years; their graduation rates rose eight percentage points and 12 percentage points respectively. More than half of transfer students from Imperial Valley earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at the college, roughly 10 percentage points above the national average, according to the release. Amarillo graduates earn annual wages $11,000 higher on average than other new hires in the region.
“We know that students enroll in college for one reason above all others: to get a good job,” Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, said in the release. “What’s so amazing about these winners is how clearly they hold those goals as the top priority. Amarillo and Imperial Valley are changing lives by getting students not just to completion, but set up for life-long success.”