ORLANDO – Coming on the heels of the national recognition awarded to Orlando’s Valencia College, the Orlando City Commission decided to pay tribute today to the college that has been recognized as being the top one in the nation.
“They were not named one of the best community colleges in the nation, but the best, number one community college in the entire nation,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said, moments before he issued a proclamation noting that Monday, Jan. 9 would be recognized as Valencia College Day in the city of Orlando.
Last month, the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was announced in a ceremony held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The award comes with $600,000 in prize money. The Aspen Institute in Washington named Valencia College as the top community college in the United States, and during today’s city commission meeting, Dyer and members of the commission said the nation is finally recognizing something they’ve known for a very long time: the excellent reputation of this college that has six local campuses, including four in Orlando, one in Winter Park, and one in Kissimmee.
“Congratulations to Valencia College,” said Commissioner Samuel B. Ings. “It was Valencia Community College when I was there and graduated from Valencia in the 1970s. It was really great that the Aspen institute recognized the great things they’re doing.”
Among the reasons the Aspen Institute cited Valencia for this honor include the dramatic increase in graduation rates among college-ready African American students, nearly tripling in the last decade from 15.4 percent to 44.3 percent today, and graduation rates for college-ready Hispanic students that have jumped from 38.7 to 45.5 percent.
As Ings noted, Valencia prepares a lot of minority students for the job market and helps them find employment as they near graduation.
“They really do move a lot of students along, particularly African-Americans,” Ings said.
Several members of the Valencia College staff attended the city commission meeting to hear Mayor Dyer read the proclamation, including Sanford Shugart, president of Valencia College, who said his staff was deeply proud of the honor awarded by the Aspen Institute, and equally proud to be serving the Greater Orlando community.
“A great college like Valencia College is only as good as the community we’re in,” Shugart said. “We’re grateful for that honor and that support.”
Valencia is the third-largest member institution of the Florida College System, founded in 1967 as Valencia Junior College. The name Valencia Community College was adopted in 1971. In December 2010, Valencia’s Board of Trustees voted to change the name to Valencia College as its academic scope was expanded to include bachelor’s degrees. More than 50,000 students enroll at one of the campuses every year.
In a process that took a year to decide, the Aspen Institute worked with a panel of people working in higher education and selected Valencia and four runners-up from a preliminary list of 120 “top” community colleges in the nation, based on student performance and graduation data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.
Dyer said this recognition is really about more than simply educating students, and it has an important economic factor as well. He noted a recent meeting he attended to discuss economic development efforts in the city of Orlando, and the mayor pointed out that business leaders say the value of having well-educated students is key to the city’s future growth.
“They talk about education being one of the most critical components,” Dyer said.
He noted that Valencia College has a wide curriculum, offering 700 courses each semester, and that the college “produces more associates degrees each semester than any other community college in the nation.”
These courses, Dyer said, “link students to well paying jobs” both in Orlando and other parts of Florida and the nation.
Commissioner Daisy W. Lynum also noted that those courses have first-rate reputations as well.
“It’s real good to stand for intelligence and brilliance in education,” she said.
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