our take on: Valencia College’s national award

Head of the class

Valencia College doesn’t have a football team, but it has cracked a more meaningful national ranking.

Valencia — with six locations in Orange and Osceola counties and more than 70,000 students — has been named one of 10 finalists for the $1 million Aspen Prize, a national award recognizing “community college excellence.” Only one other Florida school, Miami Dade College, made the top 10.

The Aspen Prize winner will be named in December. Meanwhile, Valencia’s president, Sandy Shugart, has been invited to the White House next week to discuss his ideas about education with other community college leaders and Obama administration officials.

Shugart has a good story to tell. Valencia’s overall graduation rate is almost three times the rate at other large urban community colleges. Its graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students have risen sharply over the past decade.

The White House has been highlighting community colleges in the president’s plan to “out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” They’re a more affordable option than universities for high-school graduates to prepare for the working world, and for the unemployed to gain new job skills.

Valencia began offering some four-year degrees this year, but its primary focus is still its two-year associate’s programs. Its success in that area, good enough to turn heads nationally, makes Valencia a real asset for Central Florida.

Copyright © 2011, Orlando Sentinel

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