Recognizing the Excellence and Promise of America’s Community Colleges

Dr. Biden and Aspen Awards Finalists

Dr. Jill Biden and the leaders of the ten finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. (Photo by Patrice Gilbert)

Community colleges play a critical role in preparing the American workforce for prosperity in the economy of the 21st century. Americans now more than ever need a postsecondary education to learn the skills they need to be successful in the workplace and to keep our businesses thriving in a globally competitive environment.

Community colleges are educating the next generation of American workers and leaders by providing more Americans than ever with training for success in a knowledge based economy. Our best community colleges are on the cutting edge of innovation, showing us what can happen when a college reaches beyond its campus to partner with businesses and four-year colleges in order to expand opportunity, provide intensive preparation for career, and ensure excellence leading up to graduation and into the workforce. As the unsung heroes of higher education, these schools are shining examples of what can happen when institutions work hard to improve student learning and increase degree completion.  

We acknowledge the important work of our best community colleges in developing our citizens, our economy, and our nation. At the National Press Club on Monday, Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took time to salute to the finalists and winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. In these community colleges, our Administration has a strong partner in endeavoring toward the President’s 2020 goal to again lead the world in college completion.

The first-ever winner of the Aspen Prize is Valencia Community College from Orlando, FL. Demonstrating a strong commitment to completion, Valencia offers clear pathways to student success, from associate’s degree programs with guaranteed admission to the selective University of Central Florida to technical degree programs that have career advisers embedded in each program. The environment at Valencia is marked by professors and administrators taking responsibility for student success, consistently asking what they each can do to improve student outcomes. And with a strong data system in place, the graduation and workforce results are clear. These outcomes are important to Valencia’s diverse student body (about half are Hispanic or African American), a significant number of whom come from lower-income households.

Monday’s ceremony also shed light on the outstanding work of finalist institutions for the Aspen Prize. Through their applications, Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD), Miami Dade College (Miami, FL), Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY) all demonstrated bold commitment to results in preparing students for academic and professional success. Each one is a leader in career preparation and student achievement, supporting strong pathways to successful completion of four-year degrees and jobs in their communities.

As leaders in innovation and outcomes, Valencia Community College and the four Aspen Prize finalists are blazing a trail of prosperity for more students in the 21st century. The President praises the important work of these community colleges as we strive toward graduating ever more students ready to compete in the 21st  century economy.

Melody Barnes is the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council.
Related Topics: Education, Florida, Kentucky
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