PERKINSTON, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is in the final stretch of a nationwide competition, hoping to win a large share of $1 million. The college is one of ten finalists for the "Aspen Institute's Community College Excellence" prize.
Out of 1,200 community colleges from all over the country, MGCCC made it to the top ten. This is the first national recognition of the accomplishments of community colleges. MGCCC leaders are pretty optimistic they'll bring home the grand prize.
"We're just excited and elated that we were chosen," said Jim Epting, MGCCC Board Chairman.
MGCCC leaders were all smiles Tuesday, after learning that the college is one giant step closer to capturing the Aspen Institute's top prize.
"Absolutely we were counting on being named in the top ten," said Dr. Mary Graham, MGCCC President.
Dr. Graham said the college's high graduation rate was one of the key factors in the competition. This past May, more than 2,100 students graduated from the college system.
"We had an increase of 27 percent this year and we thought that was quite remarkable," said Graham."We're above the national average in retention and graduation rates for a community college of our size."
She said the college also stood out because of the high number of full-time instructors and diverse programs that prepare students for the work force.
"We stacked up quite well throughout the nation and I'm real proud of that," said Graham.
Representatives with the Aspen Institute will visit the college on October 3-4. The $1 million prize fund will be awarded in December. About $700,000 will go to the top winner. The rest will be divvied-up among the runners-up.
MGCCC leaders say they can really use the money, especially to improve student services like speeding up the financial aid and admissions process.
"But also continue to initiate new practices in retention, advising, graduation. All those efforts cost money," said Graham.
This national exposure comes at a good time. The college is celebrating its centennial this year.
"Hopefully, we will succeed in being number one," said Epting. "We know we're number one. We just want them to know we're number one."
Next week, Dr. Graham will attend a White House conference to share ideas and success stories with the presidents of the other top-ten finalists.
The Aspen Prize Finalists are (in alphabetical order):
- Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD
- Miami Dade College, Miami, FL
- Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston, MS
- Mott Community College, Flint, MI
- Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar, Calmar, IA
- Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA
- Southwest Texas Junior College, Uvalde, TX
- Valencia College, Orlando, FL
- Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA
- West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY