Valencia Named Finalist in Community College Competition

Orlando, FL — Valencia College has been named a finalist for a prestigious $1 million prize to recognize the nation’s most innovative and effective community colleges.

“The Aspen Prize is a brand new recognition of the best in community college teaching and learning in America,” said Valencia College President Dr. Sanford Shugart. “Being nominated for the Aspen Prize is like making it to the Final Four of the NCAA tournament.  It means you’re in the best company professionally in the business and we’re delighted to be there.”

Because of the Aspen Prize recognition, the White House has invited Shugart to Washington on Sept. 21 to brief senior policy officials on Valencia’s innovative learning strategies.

The 10 finalists for the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence include community colleges from around the country. Only one other college in Florida, Miami Dade College, is on the list.  The winner will be announced in December 2011.

The Aspen Institute selected the top 120 community colleges (from 1,200) in the nation, based on student performance and graduation data collected by the U.S. Department of Education, and invited the colleges to apply for the award.

“Valencia College has proven that devotion to assessment yields results,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “The college is an engine for employment in Central Florida, and a model for the country.”

At Valencia, the nomination for the Aspen Prize is the culmination of more than a decade of innovation aimed at increasing access to college, improving graduation rates – and helping all students succeed.

At a time when data show an increasing number of students nationwide are not ready for college-level work – and that the U.S has slipped to 12th globally in the percentage of young adults who hold at least an associate degree – Valencia is experiencing rising graduation rates among all students, including minorities.  The college has also seen growing numbers of its students completing their degrees in less time than students of comparable schools.

  • Valencia’s overall graduation rate is nearly three times that of similar, large urban public community colleges as defined by the U.S. Department of Education. (Source: 2010 IPEDS Feedback Report)
  • There have been dramatic increases in graduation rates for Valencia’s college-ready African American students, nearly tripling in the last decade from 15.4 percent to 44.3 percent today.
  • Graduation rates for college-ready Hispanic students have outpaced all other student gains, jumping from 38.7 to 45.5 percent in the last decade.

Valencia’s innovations include:

  • LifeMap, launched in 1998, empowers students to chart their own paths through college to achieve career and life goals through connections with advisors, faculty, staff and interactive tools.
  • Supplemental Learning, which bolsters traditional courses with small-group study sessions, led by a student who has already successfully taken the class. More than 9,500 students have taken SL classes.
  • Bridges to Success, which offers disadvantaged high school students free tuition if they enroll in Valencia immediately after high school graduation, keep their grades up and participate in Bridges activities.
  • DirectConnect to UCF, which has streamlined the admissions, financial aid, advising and transfer processes for Valencia students continuing their education at UCF.

“For more than a decade, Valencia has worked…to improve student learning, student engagement and student graduation and we’ve been able to achieve some of the highest graduation rates in America, rates that we think we can push even higher,” Shugart said.

This is not the first time that Valencia has made national news. In 2009, Valencia won the inaugural Leah Meyer Austin Institutional Student Success Leadership Award for helping minority students succeed. In 2007, the New York Times named Valencia as one of the nation’s leading community colleges. In 2001, Valencia was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the nation’s best schools at helping first-year students excel, and Valencia was named 1998-99 National Community College of the Year by the National Alliance of Business.

Valencia College operates six campuses and centers in Central Florida’s Orange and Osceola counties. It offers credit and continuing education programs. The college was founded in 1967 as Valencia Junior College, renamed in 1972 as Valencia Community College, and this year became Valencia College with the introduction of several bachelor’s degree programs.

The college has more than 70,000 students and more than 80,000 students have earned degrees at Valencia since its founding.

Click here to view the full media kit. To see President Sandy Shugart’s reaction to the announcement, click on the video below.


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