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SBCC Back in the Running for Aspen Institute Prize for Excellence

For the second straight year, the college is among 10 national finalists that could share a $1 million award

Santa Barbara City College has been named one of the 10 finalists for the Aspen Institute’s Prize for Community College Excellence for the second year in a row, and could share a $1 million prize with other top-ranked schools.

The Aspen Institute, based in Washington, D.C., selects finalists based on outstanding student learning outcomes, degree and college completion, success in the labor market after college, and the success of minority and low-income students.

SBCC is the only California school recognized as a finalist and has the largest dual enrollment program among the state’s 112 community colleges.

The Get Focused … Stay Focused! program with the Santa Barbara Unified and Carpinteria Unified school districts helps local high school students create 10-year education plans that are constantly updated as they learn more about their career goals.

SBUSD expects higher attendance and career technical enrollment because of the program, Superintendent Dave Cash said at a recent Board of Education meeting.

SBCC focuses heavily on getting transfers for its students, strong support services to help with that, and has partnerships with many four-year universities, including UC Santa Barbara.

“My heart is just bursting with pride,” SBCC president Lori Gaskin said. “Here we are as a really complex institution that has so much responsibility and dedication to meeting the educational needs of a diverse student population, and we’re doing that in the midst of a real draconian budget crisis that we’re facing, with pretty severe budget cuts that we’ve had to weather for years now.”

Gaskin, who was appointed president/superintendent this summer, said the college has been handling the budget cuts with a positive attitude.

“My heart is full of joy not for me, but my faculty, my staff and my administrators, who have worked so hard for so many years,” she said. “There’s this spirit of continuously pushing the institution to be the best it can be, and we feel it internally — we feel that push, that drive, that commitment internally. To be recognized externally for this unwavering commitment, that we have to strive and be excellent, to have that external affirmation is so powerful, it’s so validating, it’s so moving.”

She said her mantra is to ensure that SBCC provides only high-quality programs and services — even if there have to be fewer of them. It’s better to do programs extremely well rather than try to do too much, she said.

SBCC’s tuition has increased from $36 per unit to $46 per unit since the spring semester, which is a challenge as SBCC tries to stay accessible to as many students as possible, Gaskin said.

“More and more over the past years we’ve seen four-year institutions begin to price out the middle class, and we are the institution of first choice for what I call the middle majority,” she said.

Academic Senate chair Dean Nevins said the faculty and staff are glad to be recognized, but students also deserve a lot of the credit for their day-to-day hard work. He added that there’s a lot of creativity on the campus with professors constantly trying new things and continuing the ones that work. Everyone tries to improve the educational experience even though the budget keeps getting cut.

“I’m very thrilled and very proud of all my colleagues,” Nevins said. “I hope we do well, and maybe we can try for a three-peat next year!”

Geneva Sherman, president of SBCC’s Associated Student Government, said SBCC has been the best educational experience of her life.

Sherman is about to start her third year at SBCC and plans to transfer out next year to pursue a political science degree. She said the support services and academic counselors make it easy to transfer and keep students aware of the requirements and available programs.

Students are also getting more involved in college-wide decisions, such as the Continuing Education reorganization.

Sherman said Gaskin is dedicated to including students in important college decisions, which will really benefit the student body.

“It’s not just the administration, faculty and staff making decisions about what they think is best for students, but students will be involved in the decision saying what’s best for themselves,” Sherman said.

The Aspen Institute will make site visits this fall and determine which of the campuses will get the grand prize, with up to four finalists-with-distinction announced. Last year, Valencia College of Orlando won and shared the $1 million prize with four finalists.

The 10 finalists this year, with a winner announced next March, are:

» Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Texas

» Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

» College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Ark.

» Kingsborough Community College — CUNY in Brooklyn, N.Y.

» Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. (second year in a row)

» Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara (second year in a row)

» Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla.

» Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College in Cumberland, Ky.

» Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, Wash. (second year in a row)

» West Kentucky Community & Technical College in Paducah, Ky. (second year in a row)

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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