Broward College has received a national award designating it as one of the top three community colleges in the country.

The school was recognized Tuesday as a “College of Distinction” by the Aspen Institute, an education and government policy think tank based in Washington, D.C.Indian River State College in Fort Pierce received the same honor. Both colleges will receive $100,000. Broward College officials say a “College of Distinction” honor is similar to a second-place finish.

The top award, the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, went to Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, which will receive a $600,000 prize.“Broward College is a shining example of how community colleges can enroll very diverse populations and prepare them well for four-year universities,” said former U.S. Rep George Miller of California, who presented the award.

The awards, which have been given every two years since 2011, have become highly coveted by community colleges. Florida has been well represented, with Valencia College in Orlando winning the top prize the first year and Santa Fe College earning first place in 2015.

The Aspen Institute, which promotes “ideas and ideals that define a good society,” identifies schools that excel in areas such as graduation rates, job placement and a reduced achievement gap between white and minority students. The group’s hope is that the programs can be duplicated.

“Our designation as a College of Distinction affirms years of hard work by our passionate faculty, advisers, counselors, community partners and students,” President David Armstrong said. “What our students have accomplished is nothing short of impressive. This award is about their grit, determination and, ultimately, success.”

The college was a top 10 finalist for the award in 2013.

The college was noted for its educational model, called pathways, which matches courses with what students need when they leave for high-demand jobs or transfer to a four-year school.

“From the minute you come in, they map out a plan for you, and they do a series of tests to find out your skills,” said Ashanti Messias, 25, a recent graduate who now works at the college. “They help and nurture you to go out in the workforce and get a high-paying job.”

Aspen also praised the school for the small gap in the three-year graduation or transfer rates between all students (47 percent) and under-represented minority students (46 percent). The national average is 34 percent for minorities, the college said.

By:  Scott Travis