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Florida College System Institutions Stand Out As Our Nation’s Best

Florida College System Institutions Stand Out As Our Nation’s Best

Published on: Jul 24, 2020

Every two years since 2011, the Aspen Institute for College Excellence Program has recognized a Florida College System’s institution as a national finalist or a winner. Ten finalists are selected from a field of more than 1,000 community colleges around the nation, then narrowed down to one or two winners to share the prize.  The inaugural year, 2011, 14 Florida colleges were eligible to compete for the Aspen Prize. That means half of the college system’s 28 institutions were recognized as colleges of excellence by the Aspen Institute, ranking them in the top 15 percent of community colleges nationwide. Valencia (Community) College shared the first $1 million dollar prize earning the award for best in the nation. Miami Dade College was a Finalist with Distinction that year.

Dr. Will Holcombe was the Chancellor of the Florida College System at that time.  He said, “Colleges in our system are selected for national recognition and grants on a regular basis.  We are thrilled that half of our colleges, the most of any state, have been chosen for this prestigious honor. This competition will bring further recognition of the vital role our colleges play in Florida’s economy and people’s lives.”

Since that first year, the Florida College System has had an impressive run on the title of best in the nation.  A Florida college has been honored in the top 10 each voting cycle and four moved on to be winners.

Josh Wyner, the executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program explained Florida’s success, “Florida’s top community colleges have consistently demonstrated strength in every one of the metrics used to assess excellence during the Aspen Prize process. Not only do students graduate at high rates, but several colleges have narrowed—and even eliminated—equity gaps for students of color. And whereas many colleges nationally excel at either preparing students for university transfer or delivering strong technical programs for workforce entry, an unusual number of Florida community colleges excel in both areas. We are delighted to recognize excellence in Florida’s community colleges, and look forward to learning more as we move toward the 2021 Aspen Prize award.”

Once again this spring, the Florida College System received national recognition with two colleges named in the top ten finalists by the Aspen Institute for the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Broward College and Tallahassee Community College have been selected as finalists for their dedication to student success and continuous performance improvement. 

When hearing the news in June 2020, Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said, “I am absolutely thrilled that Florida colleges are again being recognized at the national level for their continued success and achievements. Frederick Douglass said, ‘Education is freedom,’ and our colleges provide the opportunity for every Floridian to realize that freedom and achieve their goals. Having two Florida colleges vie for this prestigious national award, coupled with Florida being ranked first in the nation for higher education for the third year in a row by US News and World Report, is truly a reflection of the system-wide commitment to the success of every student throughout our state.”

“The benefits to Floridians and our state that are realized through our Florida College System cannot be overstated and I am proud that the sustained work and dedication of Broward College and Tallahassee Community College have been recognized through this prestigious honor,” said Florida College System Chancellor Kathy Hebda. “Our institutions provide open access to excellence and recognitions like the Aspen Prize are important because they are symbols of the commitment our colleges have to every student, every day.”

Gregory Adam Haile, J.D., Broward College President said, “On behalf of Broward College students, faculty, staff and trustees, we are honored to be named among the top 10 finalists by the Aspen Institute for the fourth time since the Prize was established. We pride ourselves on the relentless pursuit of equitable access and exceptional outcomes for all students, regardless of the barriers. From pathways and holistic advising to partnerships that increase transfers and access for residents from the lowest-income zip codes, we honor our role in advancing education attainment and social mobility in Florida.”

Dr. Jim Murdaugh, Tallahassee Community College President said, “I’m so incredibly proud of our team at Tallahassee Community College as we celebrate being selected as a top 10 finalist for the Aspen Prize alongside Broward College. This recognition is both humbling and confirms what we already know, that the success of our students is at the heart of everything we do.”

Focused solely on student access and success, the Aspen Prize recognizes community colleges with exceptional achievements in four areas:

  • Student learning;
  • Certificate and degree completion while in community college and after transferring to a four-year institution;
  • Employment and earnings rates after graduation; and
  • Access for and success of minority and low-income students.

The winner of the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence will be named in May 2021. Until then, Aspen will work with a team of national experts to collect extensive, additional data and conduct multi-day site visits to the 10 finalist colleges.

Previous Winners and Finalists


Two Florida colleges were selected to share the top prize from the Aspen Institute - the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. 

  • Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, Florida)  
  • Miami Dade College (Miami, Florida)
  • *Broward College was a finalist. 

Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program and an Aspen Institute vice president, pointed out the unique success of each to explain why the two were chosen to share the honors, “Excellent community colleges like these are dedicated to finding the best ways to foster social mobility for their students and develop talent for their communities. Indian River has among the strongest graduation rates for both associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees in the nation. Miami Dade works tirelessly on reforms that have improved the graduation rate and virtually erased the achievement gap for students of color.  Most importantly, the data make clear both community colleges do a great job of preparing students for what comes next, whether that be pursuit of a bachelor’s degree or landing a good job.” 

Dr. Ed Massey, Indian River State College President said, “When Indian River State College was honored as a winner of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, it not only validated our institutional commitment to learning, equity, and student success, it also reaffirmed the Florida College System as the very best in the nation. Since the advent of the Aspen Prize in 2011, four of the seven total recipients have come from the state of Florida. With our collective focus on achievement and student outcomes, I am certain there will be more winners of this high honor among our 28 colleges.”

President Massey Indian River State College


  • Broward College - Finalist with Distinction
  • Indian River State College - Finalist with Distinction


  • Santa Fe College in Florida - Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
  • Indian River State College – Finalist


  • Broward College – Finalist
  • Santa Fe College - Finalist


  • Miami Dade College – Finalist with Distinction
  • Valencia College in Florida - Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

Dr. Sandy Shugart, president of Valencia College said, “It is important to note that the Aspen Prize is not based on reputation or budgets or polls, but on actual outcomes, including graduation, transfer, labor market success, and equity, all of which were designed into the Florida Colleges from the beginning.  The key features of this successful design, a platform on which the colleges can continue to evolve, are full partnership in the higher education mission with the state universities, deep relationships with employers, clear local accountability for outcomes and a state coordinating structure that has always been willing to let the colleges innovate in areas such as developmental education, bachelor’s degree access, use of technology to support learning and partnerships across the education ecosystem.”

For more information on the Aspen Prize, visit

For more information about the Florida College System, visit