PCC Named Finalist for Prestigious Aspen Prize

For millions of Americans, community colleges represent a vital pathway toward better opportunities such as continued higher education and well-paying jobs. Pasadena City College was recently heralded as a national leader among these institutions, receiving designation as one of 10 finalists for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Widely recognized as the country’s premier honor for high achievement in community colleges, the Aspen Prize will award $1 million next March to the winning college and up to four other finalists.
“This is a validation of the work that the faculty and staff of this college have been doing over the years,” said PCC Superintendent-President Rajen Vurdien. “We are proud to say that we are now placed among the elite of institutions that have the best interests of faculty, staff and students. We believe in moving students out of basic skills to college-level courses. We believe in degrading the achievement gap. We believe in reaching out to all walks of life and getting students ready for college and making sure that they transfer.”
The Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.,-based educational and policy studies organization, has awarded the Aspen Prize every two years since 2011 with the goal of assessing community colleges’ performance in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings for graduates, and access and success for minority and low-income students.
“The Aspen Institute metrics are pretty tough to meet, so what this means is PCC is just doing an extraordinary job of helping our students succeed,” said Cynthia Olivo, associate vice president of student services at PCC.
“Our community college students are incredible people. They work so hard. They are balancing lots of responsibilities. They have so many dreams and goals that this is a remarkable accomplishment.”
Forty-nine percent of the roughly 30,000 students at PCC’s Pasadena and Rosemead campuses either graduate or transfer, which exceeds the national average of 39%. Other highlights of the college’s quantitative qualifications include its diverse population, 76% of which are students of color and 43% of which are first-generation.
“Pasadena City College has made incredible strides in closing the achievement gap for minority students, especially in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, said in a statement. “Not only are PCC’s STEM programs dominated by Latino students, but women and first-generation students are also highly represented. This reflects the college’s strong demonstrated commitment to making sure all students succeed both while in college and in promising careers after they graduate.”
Later this month, the Aspen Institute will send six officials to PCC campuses in order to conduct a rigorous review process involving the examination of data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce and equitable outcomes for all students.
“We’ve already presented them with the quantitative data that proves to them that, based on metrics, we are one of the best community colleges in the nation,” Olivo said. “Now, it’s their qualitative experience, so when they visit here, they will see first-hand how extraordinary our students are, how hard-working our faculty and staff and managers are.”
PCC earned this distinction after emerging from an applicant pool of roughly 1,000 other community colleges around the country. Students, faculty and administrators recently gathered on campus to celebrate the announcement. Vurdien, PCC trustees Ross Selvidge and Hoyt Hilsman, and California Community Colleges Board of Governors President Geoffrey L. Baum were among the dignitaries at the reception.
The PCC Foundation, a nonprofit that has worked to raise funds for the college since 1979, also expressed excitement following the nomination.
“It’s a game-changer,” said PCC Foundation Executive Director Bobbi Abram. “Obviously, we’ve always thought that PCC was a leader in its field. But this gives us a very verifiable and reliable way to continue to put a spotlight on the achievements of PCC. … For this particular administration to be the keepers of that achievement is a big honor for us as well as something that we really need to steward well. The bar has been set pretty high and we’re so jazzed about it.”
Today, community colleges enroll 7 million students, which comprise nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates. The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, the Siemens Foundation and the Kresge Foundation.
The other nine finalists include Minnesota’s Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Florida’s Broward College and Indian River State College, California’s Chaffey College, South Dakota’s Lake Area Technical Institute, Nebraska’s Northeast Community College, Texas’ Odessa College and San Jacinto College, and West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
“We are proud of the work we have been doing,” said Vurdien. “We have a long history of civil engagement. We have a long history of working to bridge the achievement gap. We have a long history of diversifying our faculty and staff to reflect the demographic change of our student body. The fact that we are being recognized for the work we are doing is in itself a testament of everything we have been doing all along.”

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