Hancock College has been named one of the top 150 U.S. community colleges and now is vying for the Aspen Institute's $1 million Prize for College Excellence, the college recently announced.

Awarded by the Aspen Institute -- an international nonprofit designed to foster values-based leadership -- every two years, the 2019 recognition marks the fourth time Hancock has garnered the recognition.

"[The nomination] shows that what we're doing is sustainable and really shows the value that our faculty and staff are placing on student success," said Hancock College President/Superintendent Kevin Walthers.

Hancock College was identified from a pool of nearly 1,000 eligible two-year colleges. The Aspen Institute then selected colleges based on the performance of their students (retention, graduation and transfer rates), change over time (measured improvement in each category) and equity (the number of strong completion outcomes for minority and low-income students).

"You start with faculty who are focused on making sure students are prepared and eligible to transfer, and by setting up systems that allow students to progress on a pathway to completion," he said, adding that Hancock faculty's dedication to providing an exceptional learning environment for students as reason for the college's repeat nominations.

"When students go to admissions and records and have a good experience there, [or] when they can register for their courses [and] meet with faculty members directly, all those things work out," he said.

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As a top 150 community college, Hancock will advance to the next round of the competition and submit an application to be reviewed. Top ten finalists will be named in May 2018, with a winner to be selected in spring 2019.

"It's great recognition for our faculty and staff," Walthers said. "They're continually doing good work."

Mathew Burciaga covers education in Santa Maria and the surrounding area for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @math_burciaga

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Santa Maria Times reporter Mathew Burciaga covers education for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.