I had the strangest travel itinerary this fall: For a month, I bounced from small-town South Dakota to rural Iowa to dusty south Texas to sprawling Florida, and a whole bunch of places in between. I was lucky enough to part of the team visiting the finalist schools for the first annual Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which was created to reward schools that work hard to ensure good outcomes for their students.
Why is this novel? Because the vast majority of students who start community college do not finish—and at many schools, completing doesn’t get you particularly close to a good job. Every community college surely states student success as its goal and employs many people who care and work hard. But not all of these schools are actually doing everything they can, as institutions, to make sure students are in the right programs for them, are guided to smart choices, receive effective instruction and meaningful counseling, and learn what is really needed in order to be successful in the workforce or at the four-year colleges they might transfer to.
Aspen identified ten colleges that are. We saw some great practices on our visits; you can read my profiles here. At Valencia College in Orlando, we saw the most impressive example of a systemic approach to improving teaching, learning, and outcomes for students. Yesterday, Valencia was awarded the $600,000 Aspen Prize, deservedly so. It was an exciting place to visit, and according to the many students we met, an exciting place to go to school.