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Five Innovative Community Colleges Take Home Top Honors

American Association of Community Colleges Honors Visionary Work of Community Colleges

ORLANDO, Fla., April 16, 2019 /PRNewswire/ -- The nation's community colleges serve more than 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduates, providing a pathway to the American Dream for 12 million students. Five community colleges were honored for their work advancing access and success for students on April 15 at the American Association of Community Colleges' (AACC) Awards of Excellence Gala, part of AACC's 99th Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida.

The Community College of Aurora (CCA) took home the award in the Advancing Diversity category. The college, led by President Betsy Oudenhoven, is one of the most diverse colleges in Colorado. CCA has focused on diversifying its workforce and embedding equity work throughout the college, with the goal of improving overall student success and closing the equity gap. The college has developed a community-based Hispanic Advisory Committee to inform its work with its Latinx students and families. And it received a Lumina Talent, Innovation and Equity (TIE) grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education to provide equity training to its adjunct instructors.  In addition, CCA offers the Equity in Instruction Leadership Academy (EILA). In the past five years, CCA has increased its faculty of color by 3.4 percent (to 16.9 percent), instructors by 6.9 percent (to 22.1 percent) and staff by 10.1 percent (to 49.2 percent).

In the Community College Safety, Leadership, and Planning category, Southwest Tennessee Community College, led by President Tracy Hall, was recognized for its efforts to keep students safe. The college's Police Services/Public Safety Division plans for responding to disastrous situations and has developed training programs for officers, employees and students. The creation of the Southwest Emergency Response Team (SERT), which is comprised of faculty and staff members, is an ongoing safety program developed to incorporate employees' assistance with safety drills and activities. Southwest also has a relationship with the Memphis Police Department (MPD) and worked with the MPD to address potential civil unrest in the city when it came to light that a confederate rally was scheduled to occur across the street from Southwest's Union Avenue Campus.

Michigan's Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) — led by President L. Marshall Washington — and partners Bronson Healthcare and Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (KCMHSAS) received the award in the Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership category. In 2013, the three organizations came together with the ambitious goals of urban revitalization, community health and workforce development through sustainable food education and training. Bronson donated land adjacent to its main hospital for the new Bronson Healthy Living Campus (BHLC), with a Culinary, Nursing and Allied Health Building, a Food Innovation Center (including a food hub and growing spaces) and an integrated health services clinic for KCMHSAS, which serves about 9,000 annually. This collaboration is meeting the increasing demand for sustainable, holistic approaches to food education and health.

The winner in the Outstanding CEO/Board Relationship category was Maryland's Howard Community College (HCC). The seven-member HCC Board is single-minded in its commitment to the community college and the individuals, communities and businesses it serves. The board of trustees and President Kathleen Hetherington have made continuous quality improvement a priority, with ongoing self-assessment and evaluation for the board and CEO. They conduct an annual retreat and a new trustee orientation that promote servant leadership among trustees, and trustees participate in monthly board development sessions focusing on college programs and services. Hetherington and trustees engage in national, local and statewide advocacy efforts that promote sustainable community colleges. They also engage the community in the life of the college, including visioning and strategic planning, resource identification and leveraging partnerships to foster student completion and workforce development.

Paul Allen of Lee College (Texas) was honored in the Faculty Innovation category. Allen, chair and professor of business management in the Lee College Huntsville Center, teaches business classes to male offenders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's prison units. Because of the restrictive environment, with no connection to the outside world and no Internet access, Allen has developed innovative strategies, including curriculum that encourages open dialogue and discussion, simulations of real-world systems such as the stock market, and hosting motivational speakers from among business leaders and ex-offenders. He also creates opportunities for students to engage in activities, such as student success celebration LeeLapalooza, debate tournaments and attendance at the Texas Correctional Education Conference.

Allen's innovative efforts have not only led to success in courses, but also have provided priceless life lessons and skills that help students become successful employees and entrepreneurs upon their release from prison.

This year's award recipient in the Student Success category is California's Citrus College, led by Superintendent/President Geraldine Perri. The college created and promoted an Associate Degree for Transfer (ADT) to state universities and introduced a two-year, completion-oriented Promise Program, which provides financial assistance. The result was increased completion and transfer rates. In fact, transfers to universities have risen by 38 percent from 2014 to 2017. In 2014, the college had 691 graduates transfer to UC/CSU schools. In 2018, that number climbed to 956.

Citrus College also implemented the I Will Complete College (IWCC) program, which includes academic advisement and completion counseling to students as they enter the college. IWCC participants receive priority registration privileges for up to the first three years at the college and qualify for the Citrus College Promise. The graduation rate for the first three cohorts of IWCC students tracked since 2012 is 8 percent higher than the rate of non-IWCC students. There has been a steady increase from 399 ADTs awarded in 2014 to 1,027 in 2018.

Award winners were selected by a committee of the AACC Board of Directors. Finalist colleges also were recognized at the Awards of Excellence Gala.

As the voice of the nation's community colleges, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), delivers educational and economic opportunity for 12 million diverse students in search of the American Dream. Uniquely dedicated to access and success for all students, AACC's nearly 1,000 member colleges provide an on-ramp to degree attainment, skilled careers and family-supporting wages. Located in Washington, D.C., AACC advocates for these not-for-profit, public-serving institutions to ensure they have the resources and support they need to deliver on the mission of increasing economic mobility for all. 

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SOURCE American Association of Community Colleges