San Jacinto College named a semifinalist for the 2025 Aspen Prize

May 7, 2024Amanda Fenwick
Aspen Prize Finalist

PASADENA, Texas – San Jacinto College has been named as a semifinalist for the 2025 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence as recognized by the Aspen Institute. The $1 million award is the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance among community colleges. The 20 institutions recognized as semifinalists stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high levels of student success and comprehensive systems of student support, as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds. San Jacinto College is one of only two colleges in Texas to be named among the semifinalists. 


“Being named a semifinalist for the Aspen Prize is a tremendous honor for San Jacinto College,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor. “It underscores our unwavering commitment to delivering exceptional education and fostering equitable outcomes for all our students. We know how important our work is to improving the quality of life in our community. I thank the Aspen Institute for this recognition and applaud all of our employees for their commitment to our work. I also thank our students for their dedication and resiliency in reaching their goals.” 


San Jacinto College continues to put student success first. The College has developed and implemented strategies to ensure students complete their certificates or degrees. By prioritizing student services such as onboarding, academic advising, financial aid advising, food pantries, and mental health supports. Additionally, the College has launched a student database, which ensures that students create focused academic, career, and financial plans and are connected to resources to help them along their educational pathway. 


In addition, the College has invested in professional development for student services staff focused on building intentional relationships with students and for full- and part-time faculty that emphasizes student engagement in the classroom and through online learning. Faculty and staff annually update program pathways from entry through bachelor’s degrees so that students understand what courses are needed if they intend to transfer. The College’s goal is that students complete degrees with no excess hours or loss of credits and transfer with junior status within their majors. 


For students who choose San Jacinto College to earn a workforce certificate or degree, the College monitors labor market trends through the Texas Workforce Commission and develops programs using information from focus groups and external economic and industry partners.  


“Our workforce philosophy reflects our commitment to quality training, authentic learning, and curricula that emphasize critical thinking, professionalism, collaboration, and communication,” said Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College Deputy Chancellor and College President. “We maintain close relationships with the industries that drive our economy in this region to ensure we are providing a skilled workforce that meets the needs for our partners today and in the future. We listen first and then work collaboratively on solutions.” 


Through that process, San Jacinto College has launched innovative and necessary programs to help fill the workforce pipeline in our region. Some of these new programs include biomanufacturing and biotechnology, autonomous vehicle technician training, aerospace, and two new bachelor’s degrees – cybersecurity and teaching (early childhood education). The College continues to expand existing programs as demand in the talent pipeline requires, ensuring curriculum and student experiences model career and workplace culture. It responds to state and federal emphasis on short-term and micro-credentials for workforce upskilling and reskilling and aligns credit and non-credit programs into seamless student pathways that lead to industry credentials, certificates, and degrees. 


“Each of these colleges has demonstrated a sustained commitment to moving beyond enrollment and retention as the markers of student success to defining their success by whether the education they provide changes lives,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen College Excellence Program. “These colleges understand that enrollment and graduation matter most when tied tightly to post-graduation success in transferring for a bachelor’s degree and in securing fulfilling, good-paying jobs and careers.”  


The Aspen Prize selection process began October 2023, when Aspen invited 150 community colleges to apply, based on data showing strong, improving, and equitable student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, and transfer. One hundred and eighteen colleges applied, and their applications went to a committee of 18 higher education experts who assessed each application based on extensive data and narrative answers to questions. Following interviews with leadership teams from applicants receiving top scores, 20 semifinalists were selected.  


In June, the committee will narrow the field to 10 finalists. At that time, the Aspen Institute will collect additional information and data through multi-day in-person site visits, and then an independent jury will review the data and select the winner, which will be announced in spring 2025 in Washington, D.C. 


The 20 semifinalists are:  

  • Broward College 
  • Georgia Highlands College 
  • Kingsborough Community College 
  • MiraCosta College 
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 
  • Moorpark College 
  • North Iowa Area Community College 
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College 
  • Northwest Iowa Community College 
  • Northwest Vista College 
  • San Jacinto College 
  • Seminole State College of Florida 
  • South Puget Sound Community College 
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College 
  • State Technical College of Missouri 
  • Trinidad State College 
  • Union College of Union County, NJ 
  • Wallace State Community College-Hanceville
  • Western Technical College
  • William Rainey Harper College 

To read more about the Aspen prize and selection process, visit 


About San Jacinto College 

Surrounded by monuments of history, evolving industries, maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has served the people of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. The College is one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation as designated by the Aspen Institute and was named an Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction in 2020. The College is a Hispanic-Serving Institution that spans five campuses, serving approximately 41,000 credit and non-credit students annually. It offers more than 200 degrees and certificates across eight major areas of study that put students on a path to transfer to four-year institutions or enter the workforce. The College is fiscally sound, holding bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. 


For more information about San Jacinto College visit 


The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program supports colleges and universities in their quest to achieve a higher standard of excellence, delivering credentials that unlock life-changing careers and strengthen our economy, society, and democracy. We know it takes visionary college leaders to lead scaled, sustainable reforms,  and we make it our mission to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and research-backed tools to inspire change, shift practice, and advance the capacity of colleges to deliver excellent and equitable student outcomes. For more information, visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn and X. 


The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization whose purpose is to ignite human potential to build understanding and create new possibilities for a better world. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve society’s greatest challenges. It is headquartered in Washington, DC and has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, as well as an international network of partners. For more information, visit 



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