Aspen Institute Finalists

This year, six ACCT member institutions were nominated for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

Earlier this year, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced 10 finalists for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The prize has been awarded every two years since 2011 to a high-achieving institution that improves student outcomes. Specifically, the Aspen Prize recognizes and rewards improvements in learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and limited income students. 

In April of 2019, $1 million will be awarded to the winner, two or three finalists-with-distinction, and a rising start that has exceeded expectations in improving outcomes. Even a nomination is notable accolade considering there are more than 1,000 community colleges across the nation. 

We are delighted to highlight the six ACCT member institutions that have been named finalists for the Aspen Prize. 

CUNY Kingsborough 

CUNY Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York system in New York City has been nominated for an Aspen Prize for its proven outcomes-driven commitment to educational access, equity and diversity. 

CUNY’s ASAP program is designed to help lower-income students graduate faster. The program provides clear course maps and offers wraparound services that include intensive advising, tutoring, career services, and professional development. Another component of ensuring that students don’t get lost in the crowd is Kingsborough’s scaled learning communities. They put cohorts of students on the same track, integrating learning and non-academic supports for its most underserved students.

The Aspen Institute also recognized CUNY’s deep commitment to ensuring success for all students, reflected most recently through its Diversity Scorecard, a publicly accessible assessment by race and ethnicity of student success.

The CUNY Black Male Initiative is an example of the support minority students at Kingsborough receive. The initiative is CUNY-wide, but at Kingsborough the college provides a Men’s Resource Center (MRC) to connect new students with resources early in their academic careers. Students have the option to participate in a single-credit student development course, as part of a small 25-student cohort that provides a more intimate college atmosphere. Participating students learn effective strategies for transitioning to college, exploring career options, and accessing campus resources.

CUNY Kingsborough was an Aspen Prize Finalist with Distinction in 2013.

Indian River State College

Indian River State College (IRSC) in Florida proved its commitment to students through demonstrated strong academic and job-placement outcomes. 

The institution has a 49 percent three-year graduation/transfer rate (compared to 49% nation-wide) and offers 17 bachelor’s degrees designed to provide students with skills to fill high-demand jobs in the region. IRSC credits these achievements to its policy of developing clear programs of study and paths towards a degree, intensive advising, and intervening early if students are struggling. 

94% of IRSC graduates find jobs or continue their educations, and they typically earn more than twice the average entry wage in the four counties surrounding the institution. Additionally, ISRC has not increased its tuition in six years, helping the campus earn the Department of Education’s distinction as the third most affordable college in the United States. 

The 2017-2018 graduating class was the largest in ISRC’s history at 3,951 students. 

Palo Alto College

Palo Alto College of the Alamo Colleges District in Texas has been named a 2019 Aspen Prize finalist for improvements and high success rates in graduating and transferring more students on time, including an innovative program that addresses students’ basic needs so that they can focus on college.  

One of the college’s most notable achievements is its improved their three-year graduation rate, rising from 28% in 2011 to 47% in 2015. Graduates also succeed after transferring to four-year institutions. Palo Alto College students earned a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution at a rate 8% higher than the national average.  

Palo Alto College also employs a guided-pathways program to ensure that students are taking the courses they need to graduate on time. Additionally, the institution has partnerships with eight area high schools and can provide up to 60 credit hours free of charge to students who are dually enrolled. The dual-credit program enrolls approximately 3,000 students who primarily come from limited-income and Hispanic communities.  

Another highlight is the college’s SHARE (Student Health, Advocacy, Resource and Engagement) Center. The center focuses on providing students with services including a clothes closet, a food pantry, financial wellness information, and health screenings among other resources. SHARE also has a donor-funded emergency aid program that provides short-term financial assistance to students. 

Pierce College

The Aspen Institute nominated Pierce College in Fort Steilacoom, Washington for a Community College Excellence Prize in part because of the college’s exceptional student success rates, as well as its focus on faculty development. 

One reason Pierce college stands out is that it has a three-year graduation/transfer rate of 59 percent compared to the national average of 40 percent. The institution also has strong resources for veterans. A veterans’ resource center works with individuals enrolling in college to ensure that they find a program that fits their respective skillsets, and that they make steady progress towards completion. 

Pierce also offers unique benefits to faculty. The institution offers a structured program to help faculty improve their teaching practice to enhance student learning. Faculty are incentivized to participate in this professional development with salary increases. 

Pierce College is a first-time finalist. 

Pasadena City College

Pasadena City College (PCC) in California has been named a finalized for the 2019 Aspen Prize because of highly successful efforts to transfer more students to four-year universities, including interventions specifically for low-income, veteran and other specific groups.

PCC has shown remarkable success in transferring students to four-year institutions, at a rate of 41 percent compared to 33 percent nationwide. The college has specialized advising for students who intend to transfer. Of those who transfer, over 50 percent earn a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting at PCC, compared to 42 percent nationwide. 

PCC focuses on improving graduation and transfer rates for low-income students, and for students of color. Faculty work to find gaps in course success, and the administration works to ensure that the faculty remains diverse as well. 

Like Pierce College, PCC also has dedicated services for veterans, including a new resource center, and a course specifically designed for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. 

Pasadena City College was also named a finalist in 2017.

San Jacinto College

San Jacinto College, located in the Greater Houston area of Texas, has been nominated for an Aspen Prize because of significant improvements in student outcomes, from attainment of credentials to workforce development and job placement.

One of the institution’s most notable achievements is a 33 percent increase in credentials awarded in the past five years. A key component of this improvement is the institution’s development of clear pathways for all degrees and certificates. Programs are aligned to local employer needs in the region, particularly in the fields of health care and the petrochemical industry. Five years after graduating, San Jacinto graduates earned 28 percent more than all other workers in the region. 

The institution employs innovative practices to ensure high-quality student learning. Department chairs work closely with faculty to fine tune learning techniques and improve course completion, the latter of which is factored in to faculty performance reviews. 

 In 2017 San Jacinto College won the Aspen Institute’s Rising Star Award for rapid improvement. 


For more information about each institution, visit their website.

CUNY Kingsborough

Indian River State College

Palo Alto College

Pierce College

Pasadena City College

San Jacinto College

To learn more about the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, visit 

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