Celebrating Excellence in Community Colleges

This is a cross-post from the White House Blog, authored by Dr. Jill Biden.
Original post date: March 19, 2013

As a community college teacher, I know that excellence happens every day in community college classrooms and campuses across this country. Both in my classroom and when I’m on the road visiting community colleges, I am fortunate to see firsthand the tremendous impact these schools have on so many students.  I see students striving, teachers inspiring, and administrators innovating – each doing their best to make the community college experience richer and more meaningful. President Obama has made community colleges a centerpiece of his goal to have the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world.

Earlier today at the Newseum in Washington, DC, leaders in education and business congratulated Santa Barbara City College from California and Walla Walla Community College from Washington for being selected as co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Kingsborough Community College – CUNY from New York and Lake Area Technical Institute from South Dakota were honored as finalists-with-distinction.

Community colleges represent a uniquely American idea – that if you work hard and get a good education, you can get the skills you need for a good job and build a better life for you and your family. Community colleges are often unsung heroes in their work to expand opportunities, offer intensive preparation for careers, and provide an affordable and effective option for many students.  Education and job training are critical to that vision, strengthening the middle class and preparing our citizens to compete in the global economy.  Each and every day, community colleges are doing more to grow our middle class, equipping our citizens with the education and training that today’s jobs require. 

Our Administration is working to advance locally-tailored solutions to fill in skills gaps where our local economies need them. Nearly three years ago, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, where we announced the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

In the past few years, our Administration has taken important steps to make incentive prizes and challenges, like the Aspen Community College Excellence Prize, a standard tool for open innovation in every Federal agency’s toolbox. Federal agencies, in partnership with our private-sector and philanthropic partners, are using prize competitions to spur innovation, solve tough problems, and advance their missions. In fact, since its launch in 2010, Challenge.gov has featured more than 240 prizes offered by over 50 Federal departments and agencies.

The Aspen Prize is designed to honor and recognize excellence in community colleges through evaluation of academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize honors excellence, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress – highlighting the “best of the best” and giving other schools the opportunity to consider adapting those best practices to their own campuses.

In December 2011, Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL was announced as the first Aspen Prize winner and Valencia is now a model for other community colleges across the nation.  Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Valencia and learn more about the success they are having in improving student outcomes while they are in school at Valencia and when they graduate.

Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, shared more of what made this year’s winners exceptional: “At Santa Barbara City College, faculty and staff are providing students just what they need to transfer and complete a four-year degree – a rigorous classroom education surrounded by first-rate supports from remedial math to college level writing. Walla Walla Community College’s visionary leaders stay on top of local economic job trends and job growth, and the entire college provides the kind of excellent training that students need to access well-paying jobs and that employers know will ensure future investments in the regional economy will pay off.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners and finalists, and thank you to the Aspen Institute, the supporters of the Aspen Prize, and the many people who worked so hard to help these institutions get the recognition they deserve.

Dr. Jill Biden is the Second Lady of the United States and a lifelong educator. 

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