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Southwestern among 25 nationwide semifinalists for Aspen Award

SYLVA – From a field of more than 1,100 community colleges across the United States, Southwestern Community College has been selected as one of 25 semifinalists for a prestigious national award.

SCC is the only college from North Carolina to remain in the running for part of the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which is awarded every two years and honors colleges with outstanding performance in five critical areas: Teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program now plans to narrow the group down to 10 finalists, which will be announced in early June.

“This is an impressive accomplishment of which our students, alumni and employees can be extremely proud,” said Dr. Don Tomas, SCC President. “We’re very honored that the Aspen Institute has selected us as a semifinalist for this prestigious award.”

No North Carolina college has ever been a finalist for the award, which originated in 2011. There are 58 institutions in the N.C. Community College System.

This is the first time in the prize’s history that the Aspen Institute has announced semifinalists. In years past, only 10 finalists have been named on the road to the winner.

 “We are thrilled to see America’s community colleges making meaningful and measurable progress, educating people from all backgrounds and preparing them for good jobs,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. He cited graduation rates that have risen more than six percent for all students since 2015, and five percent for students of color.

“These 25 colleges represent our dreams for a better country and a reinvigorated democracy,” Wyner added.

Last fall, Southwestern was informed of its selection as one of 150 community colleges invited to compete for the Aspen Prize. College officials submitted data and narratives for two years as part of an intensive data and practice review process.

In mid-February, SCC was selected to participate in the next round of interviews.

Becoming an Aspen Prize semifinalist is the latest national recognition for Southwestern, which has been ranked among the country’s Top 10 community colleges six times over the past 15 years – including an overall No. 1 ranking by in 2020.

Following is the complete list of Aspen Prize semifinalists:

Amarillo College, TXBroward College, FLCloud County Community College, KSElgin Community College, ILGeorgia Highlands College, GAHarper College, ILHostos Community College (CUNY), NYImperial Valley College, CAItawamba Community College, MSKingsborough Community College (CUNY), NYLaGuardia Community College (CUNY), NYMississippi Gulf Coast Community College, MSMoorpark College, CANorth Iowa Area Community College, IANorthwest Iowa Community College, IAPierce College District, WASan Jacinto College, TXSeminole State College of Florida, FLSouth Florida State College, FLSouth Puget Sound Community College, WASouthwest Wisconsin Technical College, WISouthwestern Community College, NCTallahassee Community College, FLUnion County College, NJWestern Technical College, WI

For more information about the Aspen Institute, visit

To learn more about Southwestern, visit, call 828.339.4000 or drop by your nearest SCC location.

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