Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Awarded to Two Institutions

Indian River State College and Miami Dade College, both in Florida, are the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence winners.

Last week, the Aspen Institute announced the winners of the Aspen Prize for Community College excellence. For the second time in history, the institute named two winners - Indian River State College and Miami Dade College. Although both institutions are on the eastern coast of Florida, Indian River represents a semi-rural community, whereas Miami Dade is located in a dense urban center.

In May of last year, the Aspen Institute announced ten finalists for the 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.​Six of the ten finalists, including Indian River State College, are ACCT members. 

Indian River, a finalist in 2015, and a finalist-with-distinction in 2017, won, in part, due to the institution’s exceptionally high transfer rate — 56% compared to a national average of 32%. Of the 56% of Indian River students who transfer to four-year institutions, 52% earn bachelor’s degrees, a rate 10% higher than the national average. 

Indian River credits its success to a strong focus on students, high-quality advising, and clear transfer pathways. Another component of the institution’s success is its 17 bachelor’s degree programs that were established to meet specific regional employment needs. It’s also important to note the institution’s ability to enact changes quickly. Less than a year after the decision to launch pathway reforms every program had a clear course sequence and pathway map. 

Diversity is repeatedly recognized as one of the community college system’s best attributes. Miami Dade is an exceptionally diverse institution. More than 17,000 immigrants from 150 countries enroll each year, and 43% of the student body is comprised of people of color. 

In addition to diversity, one of the driving forces behind Miami Dade College’s victory is the economic outcomes of graduates. A single year after graduation, alumni earn more than $40,000 on average, outpacing the regional average by 23%. 

Like Indian River, Miami Dade has also excelled at making quick changes. In 2013, a Florida Law made remedial coursework optional for most students. Since more students were now enrolling in college-level courses, Miami Dade had to work quickly to incorporate more active learning, tutors, and proactive interventions. Thanks to these efforts, pass rates have improved from 53% to 62%.

Indian River State College and Miami Dade College will both be awarded $350,000. Palo Alto College and Odessa College in Texas, and Pierce College Fort Steilacoom in Washington received Aspen’s Rising Star designation and will be awarded $100,000 each. 

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

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