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Texas Community Colleges Rewarded for Excellence

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Friday, June 4, 2021   

AUSTIN, Texas -- San Antonio College (SAC) is the 2021 recipient of what's been called the "Oscars" for outstanding achievement by a community college, and the reason is its commitment to students who often have a tough time staying in school.

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence is given every two years.

Dr. Robert Vela, president of SAC, said the 95-year-old institution is focused on serving people from its immediate environment in some of the country's most impoverished ZIP Codes, with low rates of degree attainment and high rates of unemployment.

"It's very difficult for a large urban institution to achieve excellence and to achieve this kind of success," Vela contended. "So we ensure that we are preparing students to be successful, in the workforce or at a university setting."

SAC will receive $600,000 for its first-place achievement in areas that include certificate and degree completion, workforce success and equity for students of color and low-income backgrounds. Amarillo College, Odessa College and San Jacinto College also received recognition.

Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, said it's a testament to the state's investment in improving community colleges that four of the 10 finalists are in the Lone Star State.

"We are looking at which colleges are achieving the highest and fastest improving and most equitable," Wyner explained. "And that's really a testament to the hard work that's been done by so many entities within the state of Texas."

Vela pointed out in the past, many would-be students avoided community college if they could afford a four-year institution, but since President Joe Biden promoted them within the American Families Plan, Vela believes many people are taking a second look.

"It provides options for you," Vela observed. "And for so many years, we have been coined as 'you're settling.' But given our environment, given our economic kind-of position that we are all in, it's actually a very smart move to make, financially."

Two-thirds of students at SAC are Hispanic, Black or Native American. Vela added 52% of students who enroll either graduate or transfer within three years, compared to the national average of 46%.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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