SF College a finalist for Aspen Prize

Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser speaks during a special engagement to announce the school's Top Ten Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence from the Aspen Institute at the Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall on Wednesday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

David Durkee stood at the lectern before nearly 600 people to reveal a secret.

In the seats of the Fine Arts Hall at Santa Fe College sat students, faculty, staff and members of Congress. Onstage behind Durkee, the student body president, trustees and administrators listened eagerly.

"Santa Fe College has been named one of the top 10 colleges in the country," he said, barely finishing before a trumpet fanfare blasted through the loudspeakers and the feverish crowd got on its feet.

After weeks of hinting at a major announcement, SF officials announced Wednesday the school was named one of 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which recognizes achievement among the best community colleges in the country.

SF President Jackson Sasser said he owes the recognition to the work of his faculty, staff and students.

"Student success is what got us in the top 10," Sasser said.

The Aspen Institute selected the finalists from more than 1,200 community colleges nationwide based on student academic achievement, degree and college completion, job placement and minority and low-income student accomplishment. The top prize will be awarded in March in Washington, D.C., according to a news release by the Aspen Institute. The winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction will be awarded monetary prizes. One school could be awarded the entire $1 million prize, or up to five schools could share the $1 million.

Another Florida college, Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, also has been named a finalist.

Among the elected officials who gave their congratulations was Congressman Cliff Stearns.

"It's an overwhelming achievement," he said.

State representative-elect Clovis Watson, an SF alumnus, recalls his days as a student fondly.

"This remarkable distinction will propel SF to another level," he said, adding that he feels the recognition will make SF more of a destination school than a springboard to universities like the University of Florida.

Josh Wyner, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program's executive director, noted in a prepared statement the success of SF's graduates.

"Santa Fe College's high graduation and workforce placement rates speak for themselves," he said. "The college understands that students must both complete degrees and be able to apply their learning in the labor markets, getting good-paying jobs after college."

In a prepared statement, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged both SF and Broward College.

"My number one priority is creating jobs and getting people back to work," he said. "These two colleges have shown that they are a dynamic part of Florida's efforts to build a solid economy."

Contact Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or joey.flechas@gvillesun.com.

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