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‘Pinch Me, I Think I’m Dreaming’: San Antonio College Wins Top Prize For Community College Excellence

Students climb the stairs of the Chance Academic Center on the San Antonio College campus in June, 2018.
File Photo |Camille Phillips | Texas Public Radio

San Antonio College has won this year’s top prize for community college excellence from the Aspen Institute. It was selected out of the more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide for the 2021 Aspen Prize.

“Pinch me, I think I’m dreaming,” SAC President Robert Vela said when he first heard the news. “Did I really wake up this morning?”

Vela said the Aspen Prize is the culmination of six years of effort to improve outcomes for students. He said the award will inspire the SAC student body to also shoot for excellence.

“This award will validate that for them, to say, ‘You will not settle for anything. You will receive the best when you attend San Antonio College or any one of the Alamo Colleges.’ That’s transformational for a first-time-in-college student that never had in their minds or thought that higher ed was for them,” he said.

The Aspen Prize is awarded every two years. Winners are selected based on student outcomes, equity and leadership.

The Aspen Prize award jury praised San Antonio College for increasing the number of students who graduate or transfer in three years by 20 percentage points over the past five years.

“At San Antonio College, there’s a family feeling, a pervasive understanding that it’s everyone’s job to make sure students succeed,” said Linda Perlstein, a director at the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

“The college has built extraordinary systems to advance this culture — constantly analyzing whether students are getting what they need to learn, progress, and achieve their goals after graduation, and adapting accordingly as an institution. San Antonio College is truly an exemplar for continuous improvement in higher education.”

First Lady Jill Biden and U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoke at the ceremony announcing the prize winners.

“The best institutions don’t just teach, they empower, they meet students where they are and help them to get to where they want to go. That’s what the Aspen Prize is all about, recognizing the schools that are leading the way, showing us that all students can learn, achieve, and thrive, if only they have the opportunities and support they need,” said Biden, who teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College.

Cardona said this year’s Aspen Prize finalists “are an impressive roster of innovative and inclusive institutions that put student success at the core of all they do.”

Three other Texas community colleges were named 2021 Aspen Prize finalists: Amarillo College, Odessa College and San Jacinto College in Harris County.

As the top prize winner, San Antonio College will receive $600,000.

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