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SBCC Named Top Community College in U.S. by Aspen Institute

March 19, 2013

SBCC student Edith Rodriguez, Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden, and SBCC President Lori Gaskin
Second Lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden (center) congratulates SBCC student Edith Rodriguez (left) and SBCC President Lori Gaskin (right) on the college winning the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. (Photo by Patrice Gilbert)

Washington, DC, March 19, 2013 – The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program announced today that Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA) 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, NY) and Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD), will each receive $100,000. (See list of Top Ten Prize Finalists below.)

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 US Secretary of Education and South Carolina Governor, and Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, at the Newseum in Washington, DC 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 seven 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.”

Santa Barbara City College
A comprehensive community college with a primary focus on transfer to four-year institutions, Santa Barbara City College sets high standards for students, and delivers strong services to enable students to reach them, from a first-rate writing center to specialized support programs for historically under-achieving students. SBCC has a large and growing number of Hispanic students – over thirty percent of the student body – who graduate and transfer at rates significantly above the national average. SBCC has built a strong culture that consistently drives to improve student success, paying special attention to ensuring that courses and programs align to the academic standards of four-year schools. The result: well over half of the students who enter SBCC and transfer to four-year colleges attain a bachelor’s degree within six years of leaving high school.

Expanding student development efforts beyond its campus to local high schools, Santa Barbara City College has created the largest dual enrollment program – which allows high school students to take community college courses – among California’s 112 community colleges. SBCC is also helping high-school students, many of whom may not be financially or academically prepared, develop long-term educational plans through college readiness and career counseling programs.

 64% of first-time full-time students transfer or graduate within three years compared with the national average of 40%.

 Five years after completing their two year degrees, graduates earn about $43,000 per year – comparable to the wages of all other workers in the area.

 48% of Hispanic students, who comprise over 30% of the student body, graduate or transfer within three years compared with 35% nationally. 

Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top Ten Finalists

Santa Barbara City College (Santa Barbara, CA)

Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA)

Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD)

Kingsborough Community College- CUNY (Brooklyn, NY)

Brazosport College (Lake Jackson, TX)

Broward College (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

College of the Ouachitas (Malvern, AR)

Santa Fe College (Gainesville, FL)

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (Cumberland, KY)

West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY)

The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate campus-wide practices that significantly improve college student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit



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