Florida’s Indian River State College Wins 2019 Aspen Prize For Community College Excellence


The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program announced today that Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, Florida) and Miami Dade College (Miami) are the winners of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.

The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years since 2011, recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide. With a singular focus on student success, the Aspen Prize assesses institutional performance in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, success after graduation in the labor market and in transfer to four-year institutions, and equity in access and success for students of color and low-income students.

“Excellent community colleges like these are dedicated to finding the best ways to foster social mobility for their students and develop talent for their communities,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program and an Aspen Institute vice president. “Indian River has among the strongest graduation rates for both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees in the nation. Miami Dade works tirelessly on reforms that have improved the graduation rate and virtually erased the achievement gap for student of color.  Most importantly, the data make clear both community colleges do a great job of preparing student for what comes next, whether that be pursuit of a bachelor’s degree or landing a good job.”

Aspen also awarded three colleges with the “Rising Star” award for their strong record of improvement:Odessa College (Odessa, Texas), Palo Alto College (San Antonio, Texas), and Pierce College at Fort Steilacoom (Lakewood, Washington). All three will be awarded $100,000, while the two winners, Indian River and Miami Dade, will receive $350,000 each. (See the full list of the 10 Aspen Prize finalists below and read more about them at: https://bit.ly/2FK6HkM).

The winners, Rising Stars, and finalists were announced at an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., by Aspen Prize jury co-chairs Ángel Cabrera, president of George Mason University, and Kathy Warden, chief executive officer and president of Northrop Grumman. Cabrera and Warden led a distinguished jury of education, business, and civil rights experts to select the top colleges, part of a rigorous review process that included the examination of extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce, and equitable outcomes, along with multiday site visits to each of the 10 finalist colleges.

“Community colleges enroll nearly 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduates – that’s 6 million students working towards degrees and certificates, most of whom strive to earn a bachelor’s degree,” said Cabrera. “As a leader of a four-year institution, I am encouraged to see the many ways Aspen Prize finalists have designed thoughtful approaches to make sure students are well prepared for transfer.”

“The exceptional community colleges being honored today are helping to provide students with opportunities through strong workforce programs,” said Warden. “These colleges are focused on ensuring that student success extends beyond graduation through high rates of employment, and they are engaging employers and aligning their programs to meet the needs of local and regional economies.”

The Aspen Prize finalists have achieved strong and improving student success rates in very different contexts – they are from rural and urban areas, serve demographically different student bodies, and offer a varied mix of technical workforce and academic transfer programs. “These 10 institutions offer proof that every community college can achieve higher levels of success for students while in college and after they graduate,” said Wyner.

Aspen Prize Winner – Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, FL) – 24,300 students
An Aspen Prize finalist in 2015 and a Finalist-with-Distinction in 2017, Indian River State College has proven its ability to sustainably improve student success rates at scale and has developed a student-focused culture that makes it likely that it will continue to build upon its successes and address challenges. Strong outcomes are the result of two strategic efforts at IRSC. The first is to provide strong guidance so that students develop academic plans clearly mapping a path to transfer without losing time or credits. The second is IRSC’s bold decision to build 17 of its own bachelor’s degree programs. IRSC leaders recognized the need—very real in the semirural location on Florida’s eastern coast more than 60 miles from a four-year university—to create educational opportunities beyond the two-year degree. The result: large numbers of students transfer “internally,” including many who may not have otherwise considered
pursuing a four-year degree.

Student outcomes:

  • IRSC has a 56 percent transfer rate, compared to the national average of 32 percent
  • IRSC has a 52 percent bachelor’s attainment rate for students who go on to pursue a bachelor’s degree, compared to the national average transfer rate of 42 percent
  • IRSCC alumni earn $41,492 on average five years after graduation, compared to the $38,714 average salary of all regional workersIRS

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