- The Aspen Institute awarded two colleges — Amarillo College, in Texas, and Imperial Valley College, in California — its Prize for Community College Excellence Thursday. The winners will split the $1 million prize.
- The Aspen Prize is a biennial award that recognizes the top community colleges in the nation and the practices that allow their students to succeed.
- Both colleges were highlighted for the creative ways they’ve shown their commitment to students, as well as their improved student outcome metrics.
Amarillo College and Imperial Valley College have both launched inventive ways to help students graduate. Imperial Valley, for example, has revamped its scheduling process around the availability of students. It has also embarked on building tiny houses on campus for students experiencing homelessness or formerly in the foster care system.
“When we saw that, that just blew me away,” Michael Sorrell, Aspen Prize co-chair and president of Paul Quinn College, said Thursday at the award ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Amarillo has also revamped its scheduling, teaching most courses in eight-week sessions.
That was a difficult lift, Amarillo President Russell Lowery-Hart told Higher Ed Dive.
“There were pedagogical challenges. There were scheduling and advising challenges,” he said. “Yet still, with those challenges our student success rate increased 12% over the 16-week semester classes.”
Additionally, the college upgraded its tutoring system, referring all students to mandatory tutoring if they receive a 70% or lower on any assignment.
“You can feel it on the campus as well as see it in the results,” said Jane Swift, co-chair and former governor of Massachusetts, on Amarillo’s commitment to its students.
The two colleges have data to back up their dedication to students. In just four years, Imperial Valley has nearly doubled the credentials awarded per student and seen a 12 percentage point increase in graduation rates, Sorrell said. The college enrolls 60% to 80% of its area's high school graduates.
Sorrell said those numbers “may actually be the highest percent Aspen and its partners have ever seen. We’re talking about a historic accomplishment.”
Amarillo College, which won Aspen’s Rising Star Award in 2021, has doubled its graduation and transfer rates since 2010, Swift said. Graduates are making about $11,000 more per year than other new hires in the region.
The choice to pick two colleges to win the award, out of 10 total finalists, was not a first in the 12-year history of the prize. Colleges shared the top honor in 2013 and 2019.
“This isn’t a compromise in quality, these are two extraordinary candidates that deserve to be celebrated,” said Sorrell. “Instead of picking, why don’t we just celebrate them both?”
The two colleges were selected from more than 100 applicants. In addition to looking at student outcome metrics, the prize jury interviewed faculty, staff and students to choose a winner.