Santa Fe College Makes List of Top 10 U.S. Community Colleges

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Florida’s Indian River State College and Santa Fe College Named
Among Ten Finalists for 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

Florida One of Three States in U.S. with Multiple Finalists;
Winner to be Announced in March

$1 Million Prize for Excellence in Four Areas: Learning, Degree Completion, Employment and Earnings, and Success for Minority and Low-Income Students

Winner to be Announced in March 2015

Washington, D.C., September 4, 2014 – Florida’s Indian River State College in Fort Pierce and Santa Fe College in Gainesville were named today two of ten finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges. 

Florida is one of three states in the country with more than one Prize finalist. Indian River and Santa Fe (also a finalist in 2013) now enter the last stage of the competition for the $1 million prize fund that will be awarded in March 2015 in Washington, D.C. to the winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction. *see complete list of finalists below*

The Prize, awarded every two years, recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges.  With a singular focus on student success, the Prize assesses community colleges’ achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, high rates of employment and earnings for graduates, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

Indian River State College (25,000 students)

“Indian River State College shows how a sustained and concerted effort by an entire college can yield very strong results for students,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program in Washington, D.C. and author of What Excellent Community Colleges Do. “IRSC’s hard work to consistently support students from the moment they enroll through graduation and into the workforce has yielded steady, compelling increases in the number of students earning certificates and degrees.”

Indian River State College stands out as one of the nation’s top community colleges for many reasons, including:

  • Aggressive efforts to keep student costs down, with 79% of students receiving financial aid or scholarships
  • Exceptional improvement in completion rates: from 2006 to 2011, the college achieved  a 69% increase in credentials awarded
  • Consistent and strategic use of data to guide continuous improvement, particularly in the areas of developmental education and tailoring programs to regional workforce needs
  • Partnerships with over 400 businesses, industries, schools, public agencies and medical facilities to engage students in hands-on training and internships

Santa Fe College (21,000 students)

“Santa Fe College does an exceptional job of maintaining a strong focus on what students need to succeed both at the college and in what follows. From keeping students on track to earning a degree, to aligning career programs with regional job needs, to delivering rigorous preparation for transfer, Santa Fe delivers what students need,” said Aspen’s Wyner. “The results are clear: student success rates at Santa Fe far exceed the national average, not just for students overall, but also for its sizable minority student population.”

Santa Fe College stands out as one of the nation’s top community colleges for many reasons, including:

  • Excellent overall graduation/transfer rates (62%  compared to 40% national average)
  • Strong success rates for underrepresented minority students who make up 20% of the student body (graduation/transfer rate 49% compared to 34% national average)
  • Unique methods of advisement, registration and monitoring student progress from enrollment through to a credential
  • Clear and highly successful transfer pathways with four-year colleges, including the highly selective University of Florida (70% acceptance rate for Santa Fe graduates)

The success of our nation’s community colleges is more important than ever before. Nearly half of all college students attend community college, with more than seven million students – youth and adult learners – working toward degrees and certificates. This includes rapidly growing numbers of lower-income and minority students.

The federal government is increasingly looking to community colleges to help educate and transform our nation’s workforce and grow the country’s middle class. And constrained family budgets and mounting student debt—which recently surpassed $1 trillion nationally—will only serve to increase the appeal of community colleges.  With average tuition of about $3,000 per year per student—less than half the average at public four-year colleges and less than 10 percent of what is now charged by top private four-year colleges and universities—community colleges offer a uniquely affordable path straight to a job or an on-ramp to a bachelor’s degree.

Through the Prize, the College Excellence Program has gathered and published a unique set of  data and qualitative assessments that point the way for  community colleges aiming to dramatically improve student success.

The Selection Process

Aspen’s Finalist Selection Committee, comprised of former community college presidents, respected researchers and policy experts, selected the ten finalist institutions after reviewing extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce outcomes, and equitable outcomes for all students, especially those in traditionally underserved racial/ethnic groups—African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American—and those from low-income backgrounds. Of the 150 institutions named eligible in January, over one hundred applied to compete for the Prize.

This fall, the Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the ten finalist institutions. Following a rigorous review process, a distinguished Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction to be announced in March 2015. To learn more about the selection process, go to:

The 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was awarded to Santa Barbara City College (California) and Walla Walla Community College (Washington). In 2011, Valencia College (Florida) was the inaugural Prize winner. According to the Prize rules, former winners were not eligible to reapply for this cycle.

The Aspen Prize finalists selected today reflect the diversity and richness of American community colleges – from the large El Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas, with a majority Latino student body of 40,000, to the small-town Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota with 1,700 students, to the urban, ethnically diverse Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, part of the City University of New York and located in the South Bronx, the nation’s poorest congressional district.

The 2015 Aspen Prize Finalists (listed in alphabetical order): 

Two colleges have been named finalists in three consecutive Prize cycles (indicated with *) and two others were finalists for a second time (indicated with #)

Brazosport College – Lake Jackson, TX#
Contact: Kyle Smith, tel: 979-230-3489,

El Paso Community College – El Paso, TX
Contact: Keri Moe, tel: 915-831-6475,

Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, CUNY – Bronx, NY
Contact: Ana Carrión-Silva, tel: 718-518-4407,

Indian River State College – Fort Pierce, FL
Contact: Dr. Mary Locke, tel: 772-462-7225,

Kennedy-King College – Chicago, IL
Contact: Katheryn Hayes, tel: 312-553-2719,

Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD*
Contact: LuAnn Strait, tel: 605-882-5284 ext. 241,

Olympic College – Bremerton, WA
Contact: Joan Hanten, tel: 360-475-7120,

Renton Technical College – Renton, WA
Contact: Kendra Smith, tel: 425-235-2356,

Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL#
Contact: David Houder, tel: 352-381-3625,

West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY*
Contact: Janett Blythe, tel: 270-534-3079,


The Aspen Prize is funded by Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Lumina Foundation. 

The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit


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