San Jacinto College is named one of 10 national finalists for $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence


San Jacinto College is named one of 10 national finalists for $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

Ten community college finalists are honored for achieving exceptional, equitable outcomes for students

WASHINGTON, D.C. — San Jacinto College was named today as one of 10 finalists for the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among community colleges.

Awarded every two years since 2011, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions that achieve strong student outcomes across four key areas: teaching and learning, degree completion and successful transfer to four-year institutions, success in the workforce, and equitable outcomes for diverse student groups. In 2017, San Jacinto College earned the Aspen Rising Star Award; and in 2019, the Aspen Institute named San Jacinto College as one of the top 10 community colleges in the country.

“It is again an honor to be recognized by the Aspen Institute for the incredible work being done at San Jacinto College to help our students reach their educational goals,” said San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. “This recognition is due to the dedication of our Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, and staff to ensure that all of our students have the resources they need and well-planned educational pathways to complete their certificates or degrees. On behalf of everyone at San Jacinto College, I thank the Aspen Institute for this amazing honor.”

Focus on Completion

The College’s laser focus on student completion has resulted in a 168.7 percent increase in certificates and degrees from 2009 to 2019. This is the result of the comprehensive work of employees throughout San Jacinto College to advise and track students from admissions to completion. The institution has developed an intentional, integrated advising program to help students succeed. This program was designed to make the student experience more relational and less transactional and more intrusive and intentional, with career information and exploration strategically placed throughout the process. College Outreach Advisors monitor students’ progress and provide help, guidance, and encouragement if needed.

“We know that our students are more successful when they have a connection to the College from the moment they come to campus to the moment they walk across the stage at graduation,” said San Jacinto College Deputy Chancellor and College President Dr. Laurel Williamson. “That’s why we have been intentional about removing barriers and putting support systems in place so that our students can get the help they need wherever they are in their certificate or degree programs.”

In addition to the increased attention to helping students where they are, the College has also changed many processes to remove barriers and put support services in place where they are needed. From iConnect Centers on each campus, to First Generation Clubs, mentors, employer “Meet-Ups,” College Knowledge Fairs, and workshops, these increased connections are preparing students to transfer or enter the workforce.

Since joining the Guided Pathways initiative four years ago, San Jacinto College has been working to ensure students have a clear pathway to transfer. Student pathways are put into place during entry advising and College faculty map a pathway for each program every year so that students have a detailed plan of the courses and sequence they need to take in order to complete on time. The College has transfer maps through bachelor’s degrees in place for University of Houston’s three campuses, Texas A&M University, and Sam Houston State University. Pathways incorporate Texas high school endorsements, San Jacinto College meta-majors, and career and transfer tracks.

“San Jacinto College has developed more than 100 program maps to help our students complete and transfer,” said Williamson. “I commend the faculty and staff for their work on these pathways because we have been able to decrease the average number of semester credit hours to degree completion from 103 in 2012 to 84 in 2018, saving our students time and money.”

Partnering with the Community

In selecting the top 10 community colleges eligible for the Aspen Prize, the Aspen Institute also considered each institution’s labor market outcomes. The College works closely with a number of local and state-wide economic development organizations to understand the needs of the region’s workforce. Students are provided several tools to evaluate career interests and readiness, and Admissions Advisors initiate a career conversation with students to determine that the selected pathway meets students’ goals, interests, and salary aspirations.

San Jacinto College is a partner with local industries. Through advisory committees of industry subject-matter experts, the College is able to provide discipline-specific curriculum and guidance on equipment and program changes to meet the ever-changing and growing needs of the region’s industries. Industry experts work alongside College faculty in programs such as maritime, petrochemical, automotive technology, and health care to ensure that the College is providing students with the skills they need to immediately enter the workforce upon graduation. Many programs have a job placement rate above 90 percent.

“San Jacinto College is always improving,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program. “The college has comprehensively restructured its systems to align everything to students’ success, from before they enroll until they complete a degree. The college is also especially effective in building relationships with employers to deliver what the community needs to thrive and ensuring that graduates succeed in the workforce.”

The 10 Aspen Prize finalists were selected from the nation’s 1,000 community colleges in a process that included qualitative and quantitative data analysis and engaged more than 30 experts in the field. The finalists all effectively identify, develop, and scale strategies to propel all students to not just complete college but also succeed after graduation.

For the rest of 2020, the Aspen Institute will work with a team of national experts to complete a rigorous review process to determine the eventual winner of the prize. This encompasses a comprehensive examination of outcomes data as well as multi-day virtual site visits to each of the 10 finalist institutions.

In early 2021, a distinguished jury will convene to select the prize winner, finalists with distinction, and a rising star and allocate a $1 million award among them. The winner will be announced at a May 2021 event in Washington, D.C.

2021 Aspen Prize Finalists

Amarillo College, Amarillo, TX

Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York, NY

Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Odessa College, Odessa, TX

Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA

Pierce College, Pierce County, WA

San Antonio College, San Antonio, TX

San Jacinto College, Pasadena, TX

Tallahassee Community College, Tallahassee, FL

West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence are: Miami Dade College (FL) and Indian River State College (FL), 2019; Lake Area Technical College (SD), 2017; Santa Fe College (FL), 2015; Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA), 2013; Valencia College (FL), 2011.

The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium Education Group, Joyce Foundation, and Siemens Foundation.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit and and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. 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 a fiscally sound institution, the College currently holds bond ratings of AA and Aa2 by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, respectively. San Jacinto College is a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence Rising Star Award recipient and an Achieving the Dream Leader College. Approximately 45,000 credit and non-credit students each year benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success. The College offers eight areas of study that prepare a diverse body of students to transfer to four-year colleges or universities or 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, visit or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.