GCCC ranked among top two-year colleges in U.S.
By JEROME P. CURRY
Garden City Community College has been cited by the prestigious Aspen Institute as one of the top 120 two-year colleges in the nation and is in the running for the $700,000 Aspen Prize to be awarded by Christmas to the top community college in the United States.
The Aspen Prize for community colleges was introduced after the White House Summit on Community Colleges last October. The prize was established on the recommendation of President Barack Obama; Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden; and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Aspen Institute finalists released this week were based on academics, affordable tuition and fees, strong teacher-student ratios, faculty with doctorates, ethnic diversity of the student body and how well students perform — degrees completed, numbers who move on to other institutions for higher than associate degrees and scores on standardized tests. Aspen officials said 1,200 junior colleges or technical schools were evaluated based on 2009-10 data. Colleges from all 50 states were included in the list of the top 120.
In addition to Garden City, the Kansas schools cited include Cowley County Community College of Arkansas City; Hutchinson Community College; and five technical colleges. Many states, Colorado for example, had only one school on the Aspen list.
Colleges evaluated ranged from the 200-student Carver Career Center of Charleston, W. Va., to 170,000-student Miami Dade Community College. GCCC's 2009-10 student count was 3,229.
Aspen Institute is based in Washington, D.C., and Aspen, Colo. This new ranking of two-year colleges is part of the institute's College Excellence Program.
The two-year school eventually identified by Aspen as the best will receive the $700,000 award — a decision scheduled in December. Second- and third-place schools will receive $300,000.
"This selection reflects the efforts of everyone — faculty, staff and administration — to make an affordable education accessible to all of our citizens," said Bill Clifford, chairman of the GCCC Board of Trustees.
Herbert Swender, who became GCCC president on April 1, said, "Garden City Community College has demonstrated its commitment toward student success for the past 91 years. The opportunity to be recognized and rewarded by President Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is motivation for our rural serving college to continue its endeavor to make access to college a priority."
"Every community college participating in the program will receive a full data report back from the Aspen Institute, allowing us to benchmark and compare ourselves against the best of the best," said Deanna Mann, GCCC's dean of institutional effectiveness and enrollment services.
Joseph Emmons, who served as GCCC's interim president from August 2010 until Swender assumed the job in April, credited Carol Ballantyne, who retired as president last July 1 after 10 years in office; her predecessor, James Tangeman, who was president from 1988 to 2000; the school's faculty; and the determination of its diverse student body.
"That was one of the things that was most impressive to me," Emmons said. "Garden City always has worked with diverse populations — the adult learning center, the English as Second Language students. It was all in place when I came. All I did was walk around and encourage people. Garden City has had a longstanding reputation in Kansas for its excellence. Now to be in the Aspen Institute's top 10 percent, that is marvelous. GCCC has a really, really good professional staff. They are professionals who know what they are doing."
The focus of the awards program, also reported in the publication Inside Higher Education, is on student success and on identifying models of higher education that succeed. The institute says the project honors excellence, stimulates innovation and establishes benchmarks to measure school quality.
The final 10 schools will receive on-site visits for a third round of evaluations, and the recipient of the $700,000 award is expected to be announced in December.
The Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation fund the Aspen Prize.