Aspen Institute names San Jac a Top 10 finalist

09.13.2016 | By Amanda Fenwick

PASADENA, Texas — San Jacinto College was named today as one of 10 finalists for the prestigious 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges.

San Jacinto College now enters the final stage of the competition for $1 million in prize funds which will be awarded in March 2017 in Washington, D.C., to the winner and up to four finalists with distinction.

“We are thrilled to be named a top 10 finalist for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence,” said San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. “For the past 10 years, San Jacinto College has been undergoing a great transformation. We strive every day to be a student-ready college, pushing ourselves and our students to do better. To receive this recognition as one of the nation’s top community colleges is truly an honor and is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our Board of Trustees, faculty, staff and students.”

The Prize has been awarded every two years since 2011 by the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based educational and policy studies organization which recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 public community colleges nationwide. The focus of the Prize is assessing community colleges’ achievements in terms of student success in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings for graduates and access and success for minority and low-income students.

“San Jacinto College has done an outstanding job working with local industry to encourage students to complete their degrees and get the most out of their education,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program in Washington, D.C. “The result is a win-win for students who go into the job market with stronger critical thinking skills and for employers who get workers who have received hands-on training in their industry.”

Between 2007 and 2015, San Jacinto College increased the number of certificates and associate degrees awarded by 140 percent. This is due to a laser focus on student success and the support students receive along their paths from when they first arrive at San Jacinto College through graduation. The College concentrates its efforts on initiatives that show results in student achievement and progress.

“We want our students to know that there is support and assistance along their path here at San Jacinto College,” noted Dr. Laurel Williamson, deputy chancellor and college president. “From admissions and career planning, to financial aid guidance and faculty advising, we have staff who will help students complete what they came here to start. Our work in curriculum design and delivery, learning and teaching, and student support systems is making a difference, and it is rewarding for our entire College to be recognized for these efforts.”

Some of the initiatives in place at San Jacinto College to help students succeed include an Integrated Reading and Writing (INRW) course, co-requisite math courses, a mandatory student success course and two innovative programs called Intentional Connections and Aid Like A Paycheck (ALAP).

Integrated Reading and Writing courses are accelerated college preparatory reading and writing, moving five courses into two. Students who take INRW succeed at higher rates in Freshman English Composition I than students who took separate reading and writing courses, 66.9 percent to 52.3 percent respectively. Mathematics has been re-deigned as a co-requisite model that moved students from pre-college developmental courses and the required college-level math course in one or two semesters, and math courses are aligned with a student’s career pathway so that they can learn needed math skills for their chosen career fields.

The mandatory student success course prepares students to be successful in education and connects them to the College through sustained intervention and advising. The course focuses on time management, career assessment and advising, educational planning and instruction that helps students understand the role they play in their own educational journeys.

Intentional Connections addresses the needs of low skill, high-risk college preparatory education students. The program places high-risk students in a learning community, which includes college preparatory English and reading, the student success course and structured career exploration. Students select a field of study for a specific career path, obtain a faculty mentor from that area, and visit program courses and activities to ensure that career is the right choice.  Once a student has chosen a career path, the student, with guidance from faculty and support staff, develops goals and creates an educational plan. Last fall more than 600 students were enrolled in Intentional Connections.

Aid Like A Paycheck provides students with financial aid refunds every two weeks, rather than in a lump sum 30 days after the semester begins, which is the methodology for most financial aid students. The result is that students are better able to manage their financial resources throughout the semester so they can stay enrolled and graduate. Financial literacy and coaching are available for students from entry through completion.

“These efforts, along with many more, are truly working here at San Jacinto College,” added Hellyer, who made the announcement to faculty and staff via video earlier this morning. “Many of these programs and initiatives came directly from our faculty, and we are seeing the results in the classroom and at the end of the year when we celebrate our graduates at commencement. I thank and congratulate everyone at San Jacinto College for their efforts in leading us to be an Aspen Prize finalist.”

San Jacinto College was also recognized for its partnerships with local industry, training more than 4,500 individuals through the Continuing and Professional Development (CPD) division during the 2014-2015 academic year. These trainings were in the areas of business and professions, computers and information technology, health occupations, maritime, and applied technology and trades, industries that drive the economy in the Gulf Coast region.

San Jacinto College business and industry partners are committed to ensuring that curriculum, equipment, and facilities are up to date, and they guide College leadership to better understand what students need to know when entering the workforce. The College works closely with business and industry to prepare students to move into high-demand, high-wage careers that support their families and sustain regional industries and small businesses.

Community colleges today enroll nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates—7 million students—working toward degrees and certificates. This includes rapidly growing numbers of low-income and minority students. While fewer than 40 percent of all community college students graduate, Aspen Prize finalist institutions demonstrate that every community college can help more students achieve success while in college and after they graduate.

This fall, the Aspen Institute will visit San Jacinto and the other nine nominated colleges to conduct a rigorous review process that includes examination of extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce, and equitable outcomes for all students. Then, a distinguished Prize Jury of higher education experts will select a grand prize winner and up to four finalists with distinction.


The 2017 Aspen Prize Finalists (listed in alphabetical order):

Two colleges have been named finalists in four consecutive Prize cycles (indicated with *) and two others were finalists for a second time (indicated with #)


  • Anoka-Ramsey Community College – Coon Rapids, Minnesota
  • Broward College – Fort Lauderdale, Florida#
  • Chaffey College – Rancho Cucamonga, California
  • Indian River State College – Fort Pierce, Florida#
  • Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, South Dakota*
  • Northeast Community College – Northeast, Nebraska
  • Odessa College – Odessa, Texas
  • Pasadena City College – Pasadena, California
  • San Jacinto College – Pasadena, Texas
  • West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, Kentucky*


About The Aspen College Excellence Program
The program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit


About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. As an Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Top 10 finalist and an Achieving the Dream Leader College, approximately 30,000 students each semester benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers seven areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to a four-year college or university or enter enter the workforce with the skills needed to support the growing industries along the Texas Gulf Coast. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.


For more information about San Jacinto College, call 281-998-6150 or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.