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SJC awarded prestigous Rising Star prize

Written by Staff. Posted in Schools

San Jacinto College was awarded the Rising Star award from the Aspen Institute in Washington DC. The college was commended for improving student completion. San Jacinto College was also a finalist for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

A finalist for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, San Jacinto Community College in Pasadena, Texas was recognized today with a Rising Star award for improving student completion.

Awarded every two years since 2011, the $1 million Aspen Prize recognizes institutions for their outstanding outcomes in four areas: student learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. The Prize is the nation’s preeminent recognition for achievement and improvement in community colleges.

Selected from 1,000 public community colleges nationwide, 2017 Aspen Prize winner, Lake Area Technical Institute will receive $600,000 in prize funds. Florida’s, Broward College (Fort Lauderdale) and Indian River State College (Fort Pierce) were named Finalists-with-Distinction. Two Texas schools, Odessa College (Odessa) and San Jacinto College (Pasadena) were recognized with the “Rising Star” award for rapid improvement in student completion: All four will receive $100,000 prizes. (See full list of Top Ten Prize Finalists below and read more information about them at

"I am honored and humbled to accept this Rising Star award on behalf of the entire San Jacinto College community,” said Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. “This award is for our students. They are the focus of our work and our efforts. We want them to achieve their goals and we want to eliminate barriers that could impede their success. This recognition as one of the top five community colleges in the nation is proof that we are accomplishing those efforts.”

Launched in 2011, the $1 million Aspen Prize is awarded every two years to a community college achieving high marks in student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings for graduates, and access and success for minority and low-income students. From the more than 1,100 community colleges nationwide, San Jacinto College was first selected among the top 150 last spring. A selection committee then narrowed down those institutions to the top 10, and today named the Aspen Prize winner, two Finalists with Distinction and two Rising Star recipients.

“San Jacinto College is delivering highly-skilled graduates to fuel economic growth and enable social mobility in the Houston region,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and author of “What Excellent Community Colleges Do.” “Student completion rates have risen steadily and substantially since San Jacinto College reorganized and began to develop a strong culture where everyone at the college is uniquely focused on and held accountable for student success.”

Between 2007 and 2016, San Jacinto College increased the number of certificates and associate degrees awarded by 161.7 percent. Last academic year, 7,019 students earned a certificate or degree from San Jacinto College. This increase 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.

“Student success is what we are about,” said Dr. Laurel Williamson, deputy chancellor and San Jacinto College president. “Our entire Collge is focused on student success, beginning with our Board of Trustees. They set the vision for our College. We have excellent faculty and staff who are executing that vision by implementing innovative and new techniques in the classroom and within student services to help more students finish what they started here at San Jacinto College.”

Addressing Outcomes

In selecting San Jacinto College as an Aspen Prize Rising Star recipient, a panel of distinguished leaders in higher education evaluated the College’s efforts in several areas including completion and labor market outcomes. San Jacinto College has developed a number of innovative initiatives that put students on a path to success. For example, San Jacinto College faculty developed a reading first and math re-design for students without college-level reading skills. This course combines developmental reading, developmental math and college algebra into one course, and had a success rate of 71.4 percent in Fall 2015, compared to traditional algebra success rates of 53.7 percent.

Another example is the College’s Integreated Reading and Writing course, an accelerated developmental reading and writing course that moves five courses to two. Students who take the course are succeeding at a higher rate in Composition I than students who took separate reading and writing courses, 66.9 percent to 52.3 percent, respectively.

To ensure students achieve labor market success, San Jacinto College has aligned program learning outcomes to industry standards. The College monitors labor market trends and develops programs in partnership with local industry representatives. Each program maintains an advisory committee comprised of local experts who meet annually with faculty and staff to review student success data, curriculum, facilities and equipment, and job placement.

The maritime and petrochemical industries are two of the strongest in the Gulf Coast region. In January 2016, San Jacinto College opened its fourth campus, one that specializes in maritime training, located along Port Houston. This new campus was a direct response to industry demand, and reflects a true partnership between the College and local businesses who are looking for a local site to train incumbent workers. San Jacinto College is also planning to construct a new technologically advanced Center for Petrochemical, Energy and Technology, another direct response from the region’s industry. Funded through a bond referendum approved by voters in the District in 2015, the new Center will be the region’s hub for petrochemical and manufacturing training, directly supporting the economic engine in the Gulf Coast region and preparing people for careers at all levels.

“Our industry partnerships are crucial to helping us fill the employment pipeline in a number of fields that are thriving in the Houston region,” said Mr. Dan Mims, Chaiman of the San Jacinto College Board of Trustees. “We value these relationships and are thankful for the benefits our students receive from having experts involved in our programs.”

Closing the gap

Another area that the Aspen Institute panel evaluated was around achievement gaps between different groups of students and how San Jacinto College addressed those gaps. To effect a cultural change, in 2009 the College created an immersive two-day training based on Skip Downing’s On Course principles. The training, titled “Success at San Jac” was mandatory for all employees. San Jacinto College also instituted a new faculty academy, new staff orientation and a re-connect program to refresh long-term employees to sustain momentum. These initiatives resulted in an institutional commitment to student success.

“From these faculty and staff initiatives we were able to create and implement a number of student success initiatives and services to support our students as they navigate their first semester at San Jacinto College through graduation,” said Hellyer. “We have seen an increase in our graduation rates of more than 160 percent over the last 10 years, and much of that success is a direct result of how we are helping students earn their certificate or associate degree.”

Some student success initiatives that resulted from the college-wide approach to student success include Aid Like Paycheck and a new Open Educational Resources (OER) degree. 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. San Jacinto College provides financial literacy and coaching for students from entry through completion.

The OER degree will be a general studies associate degree program that will provide significant cost savings to students because they will not have to buy traditional course materials such as high-cost textbooks. In lieu of traditional print textbooks that can cost several hundred dollars per copy, students who participate in the new degree program will use digital Open Educational Resources course materials which are accessible online. For a nominal technology fee, San Jacinto College students will be able to utilize these resources, significantly reducing the cost of textbooks that many students face each semester.

San Jacinto College recognizes that achievement gaps exist between minority students and students of all other races and ethnicities. However, the College has been making significant strides in closing those gaps. “Community College Week” ranks San Jacinto College eighth in the country in awarding associate degrees to Hispanic students, and the College was recently recognized by “The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education” magazine as one of the top 10 community colleges for Hispanics. The College has increased the number of certificates and degrees awarded to Hispanic students by 174 percent since the 2008-2009 academic year, and has increased by 109 percent the number of certificates and associate degrees awarded to African-American students.

The College’s Men of Honor and Women of Integrity programs are two initiatives the College has supported to provide its Hispanic and African-American students the support they need to complete what it is they started at San Jacinto College. Community members and San Jacinto College employees serve as mentors in each organization, offering guidance, encouragement and support to Hispanic and African-American male and female students. The goal is to increase retention and graduation rates among the Hispanic and African-American populations, while also providing assistance in finding their educational and professional pathway.

“San Jacinto is delivering highly-skilled graduates to fuel economic growth and enable social mobility in the Houston region,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and author of What Excellent Community Colleges Do. “Student completion rates have risen steadily and substantially since San Jacinto reorganized and began to develop a strong culture where everyone at the college is uniquely focused on and held accountable for student success.”

San Jacinto serves nearly 41,000 students who represent the cultural and ethnic diversity of East Texas. The college is deeply committed to expanding higher education access, making concerted aggressive efforts to enroll students who typically have limited or access to higher education. Today, Hispanic student make up more about half of the student body, a ratio much higher than that the college’s service area.

But access is not enough for the colleges leaders, faculty and staff. San Jacinto has developed a clear and holistic completion agenda as well as strong workforce programs that are aligned with local employer needs and projected job growth, especially in the health care fields and petrochemical industry.

The outstanding student outcomes that helped San Jacinto earn its recognition for the Rising Star award, include:

Strong improvement in three-year graduation/transfer rate , from 29 percent to 38 percent in five years

Number of credentials awarded to students rose from 38 percent to 51 percent in five years

The Prize winner and finalists were announced at an event at the Newseum in Washington, DC, by Aspen Prize Jury co-chairs Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former Governor of Indiana, and former Representative George Miller (D-CA).

Community colleges today enroll more than 40 percent of all US undergraduates – 6 million students – working toward degrees and certificates. These include growing numbers of lower-income and minority students. Aspen’s Rising Star winners demonstrate that community colleges can dramatically improve the success of students while in college and in completing a degree that leads to well-paying jobs and careers after college.

For more information about the 2017 Aspen Prize Winner, Finalists-with-Distinction, Rising Stars as well as information and lessons learned from the all of the Prize Finalists listed below, please visit: