The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced Tuesday that Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College in Washington are co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The two winners, along with the two finalists-with-distinction, were selected from the nation’s more than 1,000 public community colleges. Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College will each receive a $400,000 prize to support their programs, while finalists-with-distinction — Kingsborough Community College-CUNY (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, S.D. — will each receive $100,000.

As the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges, the prize recognizes institutions for outstanding achievement in four areas: student learning outcomes, degree completion, labor market success in securing good jobs after college, and facilitating minority and low-income student success.

Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of the United States, joined John Engler, president of Business Roundtable and former governor of Michigan, Richard Riley, former U.S. secretary of education and South Carolina governor, and Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., in celebrating the program and the hard work of the applicants. The winners were selected by a prize jury of 12 prominent leaders in education, business, civil rights and public service.

“Santa Barbara City College and Walla Walla Community College offer outstanding models for achieving exceptional levels of student success at a time when our nation needs community colleges to do even more than they have in the past. The prize co-winners are especially strong in two key areas every community college aims to achieve: preparing students for jobs and to transfer to four-year colleges,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “At Santa Barbara City College, faculty and staff are providing students just what they need to transfer and complete a four-year degree — a rigorous classroom education surrounded by first-rate supports from remedial math to college level writing. Walla Walla Community College’s visionary leaders stay on top of local economic job trends and job growth, and the entire college provides the kind of excellent training that students need to access well-paying jobs and that employers know will ensure future investments in the regional economy will pay off.”

Nearly half of America’s college students attend community college, with more than 7 million students — youth and adult learners — enrolled across America, working toward degrees and certificates.

“As a community college teacher, I have seen firsthand the tremendous power community colleges have to change lives,” Dr. Biden said. “Community colleges are essential to the president’s goal of having the best-educated, most competitive workforce in the world. They represent a uniquely American idea — that if you work hard and get a good education, you can get the skills you need for a good job and build a better life for you and your family. We are pleased to celebrate the contributions of these prize winners and finalists.”

Community college students are more likely than four-year college students to be minorities, to come from low-income backgrounds, and to be the first in their families to pursue higher education. As the most affordable option in higher education, the average tuition at community colleges is about $3,000 per year per student, less than half the average at public four year colleges and 10 percent of what is now charged by top private four-year colleges and universities.

“Community colleges are vital to a healthy American economy,” said Engler, co-chair of the jury that selected the winners. “With millions of unfilled jobs in this country because workers don’t have the skills to fill them, it’s critically important that we continue to support a strong community college system.”

“We owe it to students to shine a spotlight on community colleges like SBCC and Walla Walla that are excelling at providing students with an affordable high-quality education,” said Riley, jury co-chair. “This prize is about improving student achievement and raising the bar for all community colleges because all Americans, particularly the growing population of low-income and minority students, are increasingly relying on community colleges to give them the skills they need for a better future.”

Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top Ten Finalists


Santa Barbara City College (Santa Barbara)
Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, Wash.)


Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, S.D.)
Kingsborough Community College- CUNY (Brooklyn, N.Y.)


Brazosport College (Lake Jackson, Texas)
Broward College (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
College of the Ouachitas (Malvern, Ark.)
Santa Fe College (Gainesville, Fla.)
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (Cumberland, Ky.)
West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, Ky.)

— Joan Galvan is a public information officer for Santa Barbara City College.