San Jacinto College Named a Finalist for $1 Million Aspen Prize

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The Aspen Institute has named San Jacinto College as a finalist for the 2025 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The $1 million award is the nation’s signature recognition of strong performance among community colleges. The institutions selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success, as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.

“On behalf of our Board of Trustees, employees and students, I thank the Aspen Institute for recognizing San Jacinto College as one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation again,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor. “We know that there are many institutions across the country doing incredible work on behalf of their students and their communities, and San Jacinto College is honored to be included in that group. Our continued focus on serving all students and all members of our community ensures that our region will have a skilled workforce and students will be prepared to begin their careers or transfer to a four-year university of their choice.”

That focus includes partnering with local industry to ensure that workforce needs are being met. Chancellor’s Advisory Councils oversee high-demand, high-wage workforce sectors that are prioritized by labor-market demand, competitive wages, and employment opportunities. These councils bring together C-Suite leaders for conversations about workforce needs and technological and operational changes. It’s partnerships like these that benefit programs in curriculum development, facilities, student support, and employment.

For students who wish to transfer, San Jacinto College maintains a Transfer Community on its shared internal site. This site houses information including articulation agreements, admissions information, university degree plans, university financial aid codes, important dates, university contacts, and scholarship information. This ensures that all advisors and others who work with students are sharing consistent information. While most colleges maintain generic institution-to-institution articulation agreements, San Jacinto College articulates at the program level and has 50 active agreements and more than 200 transfer pathway maps for full- and part-time students.

“We are committed to ensuring that students can earn their credential and seamlessly transfer or enter the workforce,” said Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College deputy chancellor and College president. “No student enters San Jacinto College without first meeting with an advisor to intentionally explore career options and determine a specific degree. This has allowed us to reduce the number of general studies degrees by nearly 30%, putting students on a defined path toward graduation and credential completion, and reduce the number of credit hours students take to complete a degree by 6 semester credit hours. Our goal for workforce is that students are prepared for regional entry-level jobs at family-sustaining wages and that transfer students arrive at transfer institutions with junior status in their programs and no loss of credit.”

To address the workforce needs in the region and across the state, San Jacinto College has developed three bachelor’s degree programs in nursing, cybersecurity, and early childhood education. It is estimated that there will be a 35% employment growth in cybersecurity, driven by e-commerce and artificial intelligence. In the Houston-Galveston metro area there were 25,000 job postings for elementary school teachers last year, tenth highest in the nation. By establishing these bachelor’s degrees pathways, San Jacinto College is able to respond quickly to workforce needs and address student retention and completion in effective ways.

Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, noted the Aspen Prize finalists not only deserve national recognition, but they also need to be studied and their successes replicated.

“Working-class Americans are experiencing an economy that seems to be stacked against them, while employers are struggling to find well-prepared workers in fields such as teaching, nursing, software development, welding, and advanced manufacturing,” Wyner said. “The 10 Aspen Prize finalists demonstrate how community colleges serving urban and rural communities throughout the country can prepare many more graduates for fulfilling lives and careers in their communities. They show that excellence can be reached in any and every context.”

 Awarded every two years, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding performance in six critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, broad access to the college and its offerings, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. The winner will be announced in the spring of 2025.

San Jacinto College has previously been recognized by the Aspen Institute as a Rising Star (2017), Aspen Prize Finalist (2019), Finalist with Distinction (2021), and Aspen Prize Finalist (2023).

The 2025 finalists are:

  • Georgia Highlands College (Georgia)
  • Moorpark College (California)
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (Wisconsin)
  • Northwest Vista College (Texas)
  • San Jacinto College (Texas)
  • Seminole State College of Florida (Florida)
  • South Puget Sound Community College (Washington)
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (Wisconsin)
  • Union College of Union County (New Jersey)
  • Wallace State Community College-Hanceville (Alabama)

The Aspen Prize selection process began in the summer of 2023 when Aspen analyzed data on 1,000 community colleges in key areas such as retention, completion, and transfer. In October, Aspen invited 150 community colleges to apply based on data showing high, improving, and equitable levels of student success. The 118 submitted applications went to a selection committee of 18 higher education experts who assessed each application based on extensive data and narrative answers to questions. Following interviews with leadership teams from applicants receiving top scores, 20 semifinalists were selected and announced in May. The committee continued its review and narrowed the field to the 10 finalists.

Next steps in the process include:

  • Fall 2024: Multi-day in-person site visits to each of the 10 finalists, during which Aspen and partners will collect additional information, including extensive employment and earnings data on graduates from the finalist colleges.
  • Winter 2025: A distinguished, independent prize jury will review data and qualitative summaries that synthesize each part of the 14-month analyses, then meet for a full day to select the winner and others for additional recognition.
  • April 17, 2025: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington, DC.

 To read more about the Aspen prize and selection process, visit