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Aspen Institute Names Santa Fe Top Community College

Written By: Erica Brown

Santa Fe College won the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the highest recognition in the field, on Wednesday (March 18).

Santa Fe, which was selected from 1,123 public community colleges nationwide, will receive $800,000 in prize funds. Santa Fe was a finalist for the award the past two times it was awarded.

“Santa Fe College stands out for its exceptional work in keeping students on track to graduate with degrees that have incredible value after they graduate,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute program and the author of the book “What Excellent Community Colleges Do.”

“Faculty and staff provide rigorous preparation for transfer to four-year universities like the nearby University of Florida and have proactively worked with local employers to meet their changing workforce needs,” Wyner said at the awards ceremony, held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“The results are clear: Santa Fe graduates have one of the highest transfer and bachelor’s attainment rates in the country as well as strong employment and earnings outcomes.”

In accepting the award, Santa Fe President Jackson Sasser thanked students and staff. “This is your award,” he said. “You did the work.”

Santa Fe serves nearly 22,000 students on its campuses in Gainesville and in Archer, Alachua, Keystone Heights and Starke.

One example of how it meets the need for workers is that developed bachelor’s degree programs in information technology in response to local companies’ needs for programmers and network specialists, the Aspen Institute noted.

The college’s student outcomes include the following:

  • 62 percent of its students graduate or transfer to another college or university, well above the 40 percent nationally.
  • 70 percent of its students who apply to transfer to four-year universities are accepted.
  • 49 percent of the college’s students from under-represented minority groups graduate or transfer, which compares to the national average of 34 percent.

Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, spoke at the event and endorsed President Barack Obama’s proposal that two years of college be free for responsible students.

“Now, more than ever, Americans are relying on community colleges as stepping stones,” she said.

Biden spoke about her March 9 trip to Gainesville during which she met a Santa Fe student named Erica who had dropped of school in the past – and now is an honor student and an ambassador for the college.

“Santa Fe was exactly what she needed,” Biden said.



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