Santa Fe College won this year's Aspen Prize for community college excellence, but Renton Technical College and Olympic College were also praised for the strength of their programs.

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Two Washington community colleges on the short list for a major national prize for excellence didn’t take home the trophy Wednesday. But Renton Technical College and Olympic College in Bremerton did receive recognition for the strength of their programs by the Aspen Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, at a National Press Club ceremony.

The winner of this year’s $1 million Aspen Prize for community college excellence was Santa Fe College of Gainesville, Fla. The college was hailed for its transfer rate — students transfer to a four-year school and receive bachelor’s degrees at a rate more than double the national average. The prize’s judges also praised it for the creation of clear, rigorous pathways to degrees at neighboring University of Florida. The Santa Fe College students there are assisted during class registration by technology that helps them align their course choices with transfer requirements, Aspen judges said.

Renton Tech made the top-10 list in part because of a method of instruction called I-BEST, for Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training, in which basic skills such as math and writing are taught as part of professional and technical classes rather than  separately. The college was also noted for its structured career pathways that make it easy for a student to know which classes to take to advance in their careers.

Olympic College, also in the top 10, was cited for career-oriented programs that are closely aligned with local job opportunities. It also has partnerships that extend its program beyond traditional community college formats, such as an engineering degree program it offers in conjunction with Washington State University.

Two years ago, Walla Walla Community College won the Aspen Prize, which it shared with Santa Barbara City College. The prize was created to identify the top-performing community colleges and share what they were doing with other schools.