November 2, 2021
The Aspen Institute Names Santa Monica College one of 150 U.S. Community Colleges Eligible for 2023 Aspen Prize
$1 Million Prize Recognizes Excellence in Equitable Outcomes for Students in and After College
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 2, 2021 — Today, the Aspen Institute named Santa Monica College (SMC) one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America's community colleges. The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.
The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit data and narratives as the next steps in an intensive data and practice review process, culminating in the announcement of the Prize winner in spring 2023.
“For decades, Santa Monica College has centered equity in decision-making with the intention of creating a welcoming environment for all students, one that seeks to continually eliminate roadblocks of systemic racism and socio-economic inequality. The college’s educators and staff work with dedication and passion to create an educational environment designed specifically to help students persist and excel toward academic and career success,” said SMC Superintendent/President Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery. “The fruit of these efforts is seen in the college’s unbroken 30-year record as California’s No.1 transfer college to the University of California, in the fact that more African American and Chicanx/Latinx students transfer to UC campuses from SMC than any other California community college, and in the academic excellence and ethic of care visible both inside and outside this college’s classrooms. We are beyond excited to have this commitment to equity and student success recognized by the Aspen Prize Top 150 community college honor, for what President Barack Obama called ‘…the Oscars for great community colleges!’”
Jeffery further stated that Santa Monica College’s goal has always been “. . . for every student to identify and realize their own fullest potential, building better lives for themselves and their families in the process. SMC students and community college students overall are the agents of change needed to create a stronger, more just nation and world."
The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to elevate the sector, drive attention to colleges doing the best work, and discover and share highly effective student success and equity strategies. Since 2010, Aspen has chosen to focus intensively on community colleges because they are—as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated at the 2021 Aspen Prize ceremony—“a powerful engine of prosperity.”
But student outcomes vary enormously among community colleges, and improving those outcomes is essential to securing our nation’s economic future, strengthening communities, and ensuring that diverse populations experience economic mobility and prosperity. With these goals in mind, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there. They are committed to ensuring that all students—including students of color and those from low-income backgrounds—graduate with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university. That same commitment that stands at the center of the Aspen Prize: to advance the goals of social mobility and equitable talent development.”
The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 34 states, these colleges serve as few as 230 students and as many as 57,000. Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns—including Lake Area Technical Institute (SD, 2017 Prize winner) and Walla Walla Community College (WA, 2013)—to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including Miami Dade College (FL, 2019) and San Antonio College (TX, 2021).
The four other previous winners are Indian River State College (FL, 2019); Santa Fe College (FL, 2015); Santa Barbara City College (CA, 2013); and Valencia College (FL, 2011).
In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Eligible colleges must show strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Nationwide, 15 percent of community colleges (150 of the approximately 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide assessed for the Prize) have been invited to apply—the full list can be accessed on the Prize homepage.
The next steps in the process include:
- Selection of the top ten finalists by an expert panel of 15 experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, to be announced in spring/summer 2022
- Fall 2022 site visits to each of the ten finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices
- A distinguished jury will meet and make award decisions in the first quarter of early 2023
- Announcement of the Aspen Prize in late spring 2023
For a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions and to read more on the selection process, visit the Aspen Prize for College Excellence website.
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The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium and the Joyce Foundation.
The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence website and Aspen Higher Ed Linkedin, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter. The Aspen Prize hashtag is #AspenPrize.
The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.
Santa Monica College, located in Santa Monica, Calif., is a California Community College accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), serving more than 27,400 students. For 30 consecutive years, SMC has been California’s leading transfer college to UCLA, UC Berkeley, and other University of California campuses. The college also tops in transfers to the University of Southern California and Loyola Marymount University and is the top feeder west of the Mississippi to the Ivy League Columbia University. More than 110 career training degrees and certificates at SMC—in fields ranging from the traditional (Accounting, Early Childhood Education, Nursing) to the emerging (Sustainable Technologies, Technical Theatre, and a baccalaureate degree in Interaction Design)—offer professional preparation for students interested in directly entering the job market, transferring to a four-year school, or upgrading specific skills. SMC provides news and cultural enrichment through its NPR radio station KCRW (89.9 FM), the Broad Stage at the SMC Performing Arts Center, and lifelong learning through distinctive programs such as its Emeritus Program for older adults.
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Santa Monica College graduates (and their families) celebrating at a diploma drive-thru event on June 19, 2021. SMC has been named an Aspen Prize Top 150 U.S. Community College by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, and is among 150 select colleges that will compete for what President Obama called “the Oscars for great community colleges.”
(Photo Credit: Santa Monica College / Amy Williams)