Aspen Institute recognizes San Jacinto College as a top 10 community college in the nation

Apr 20, 2023Amanda Fenwick
San Jacinto College News

College recognized for continued work toward equitable and measurable student outcomes

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Today the Aspen Institute recognized San Jacinto College as one of the top 10 community colleges in the country during the 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence announcement.

“We are honored to again be recognized by the Aspen Institue as a finalist for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor. “On behalf of our Board of Trustees, our employees, our students, and our community partners, I thank the Aspen Institute for this recognition. I especially want to thank the San Jacinto College faculty and staff for their commitment to our students and community. Being a part of the Aspen Prize process has made San Jacinto College a better community college.  The real prize is the credentials our students earn every year.”

Today’s announcement follows the College’s recognition as an Aspen Prize Finalist with Distinction in 2021, Aspen Prize Finalist in 2019, and Aspen Prize Rising Star in 2017.

Since 2011, San Jacinto College has increased the number of certificates and degrees awarded by nearly 72%. This is a direct result of years of collaboration among faculty, staff, and administration to help students develop individualized pathways to complete their credentials. These pathways incorporate Texas secondary endorsements, San Jacinto College meta-majors, career and technical pathways, and transfer tracks. The College has a robust advising program that allows both faculty and advisors to step in at any point in students' journeys to assist them and provide the appropriate support. We know that our continued work with the Promise @ San Jac Scholarship to all high school seniors in our taxing district will continue to make higher education accessible and affordable.

“Our commitment to our students reaches beyond the classroom,” said Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College deputy chancellor and College president. “We recognize that students face many barriers when it comes to obtaining their certificates and degrees, from child care to food to housing, and I am proud of the work that our employees have done and continue to do to provide support to remove those barriers. Our targeted interventions are making a difference.”

One such vision is the creation of a new division, Student Support Services, to provide students educational support while building connections and assisting them in achieving academic, social, and career goals. Based on a College-wide study that evaluated area programs, it was determined there was need for a comprehensive program for college-bound neurodiverse students. This division promotes a campus culture of understanding for students with neurological differences through collaboration, training, and consultation. The College also provides support to students through counseling, food markets, clothes closets, child care, and transportation.

San Jacinto College is committed to working alongside industry partners to ensure that students have the skills needed to leave the classroom and enter the workforce prepared in high demand and high-paying careers. Through Chancellor’s advisory councils and program advisory committees, input is sought from industry leaders on curriculum, facilities, student support, and employment. Maritime partners provide paid summer internships for all students. Petrochemical partners visit classes, coach and mentor students, interview on site, and participate in curriculum revisions. Aerospace partners developed an innovative noncredit curriculum for aerospace technicians that begins with self-paced learning and culminates in an internship that leads to employment. Health care partners were integral in developing the Bachelor of Science in Nursing, the College’s first bachelor’s degree.

Understanding the teacher shortage, San Jacinto College worked with the Houston Endowment to earn a $1.5 million grant to begin its second bachelor degree in Early Childhood Education. Additionally, under development is programming and curriculum to offer workforce training in the biomanufacturing growth industry in the Houston region.

“The impact that our faculty and staff have on our students and our communities is evident in the success of our students,” added Hellyer. “But we know that the work continues. Our students have an expectation that San Jacinto College will lead the way as early adopters of new programs, services, and technologies, and we are committed to leading the way in those areas and many more. We will continue to explore ways to improve the educational experience offered right here in East Harris County.”

The $1 million Aspen Prize is the nation’s signature recognition of community colleges that are achieving high and equitable outcomes for students. The finalists and winner represent the potential of the more than 1,100 community colleges across the country as engines of prosperity and social mobility.

“The 10 finalists for this year’s Aspen Prize exemplify the excellent outcomes that are possible when a college commits to delivering on its promises, both to students and the broader community,” said Josh Wyner, founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “While each has advanced student success reforms in different ways and contexts, these colleges share an unwavering commitment to ensuring that all of their students not only graduate, but earn credentials with value in transfer and the workforce.”

The Aspen Prize selection process began in October 2021, when the Aspen Institute worked with an expert data panel to craft a formula to assess student outcomes at nearly 1,000 community colleges in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Based on those data, the Aspen Institute invited 150 top community colleges to apply, and received 109 applications. A selection committee of 16 higher education experts reviewed applications, including extensive data and narratives on student success strategies.

The Aspen Prize finalists (including the two winners of the $1 million prize) are:

  • Amarillo College, TX (winner)
  • Broward College, FL
  • Imperial Valley College, CA (winner)
  • Hostos Community College (CUNY), NY
  • Kingsborough Community College (CUNY), NY
  • Moorpark College, CA
  • Northwest Iowa Community College, IA
  • San Jacinto College, TX
  • South Puget Sound Community College, WA
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, WI


The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium, the Joyce Foundation, JP Morgan, and the Kresge Foundation. Previous winners are:

  • 2021: San Antonio College (TX)
  • 2019: Indian River State College (FL) and Miami Dade College (FL)
  • 2017: Lake Area Technical Institute (SD)
  • 2015: Santa Fe College (FL)
  • 2013: Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA)
  • 2011: Valencia College (FL)

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit the Aspen Institute website, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, evolving industries, maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has served the people of East Harris County, Texas, since 1961. The College is one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation as designated by the Aspen Institute and was named an Achieving the Dream Leader College of Distinction in 2020. The College is a Hispanic-Serving Institution that spans five campuses, serving approximately 41,000 credit and non-credit students annually. It offers more than 200 degrees and certificates across eight major areas of study that put students on a path to transfer to four-year institutions or enter the workforce. The College is fiscally sound, holding bond ratings of AA+ by Standard & Poor’s and Aa2 by Moody’s.

For more information about San Jacinto College, visit




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