150 colleges eligible for 2019 Aspen Prize

The Aspen Institute on Wednesday announced the 150 community colleges eligible to compete for its $1 million 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — including nearly 60 colleges that weren’t eligible for the 2017 Aspen Prize.

Located in 39 states in urban, rural and suburban areas, and serving as few as 300 students and as many as 95,000 students, the selected colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector, according to the institute’s College Excellence Program.

Among states, California had the most number of selected colleges (16), followed by Texas (15), Florida (14), Arizona and Illinois (10 each), Kansas and Mississippi (9 each) and Washington (6).

The Aspen Prize, which is awarded every two years, focuses on student success and looks at outstanding achievements in four areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. The idea is to share promising practices as well as spotlight the need for a quality postsecondary education to attain good jobs and careers, according to officials.

“Especially in the current social and economic climate, it is exceptionally important that our nation’s community colleges develop the diverse talent needed to fuel democratic engagement, social mobility, and economic opportunity and growth,” Josh Wyner, the program’s executive director, said in a statement. “Through this competition, we’re working to inspire other institutions across our country to ensure more students succeed in college and their lives beyond those campuses.”

The top 10 finalists for the 2019 Aspen Prize will be named in May 2018. The Aspen Institute will then visit each of the finalists and collect additional quantitative data, including employment and earnings data. A jury will then select in spring 2019 a grand prize winner, finalists with distinction and rising stars.

Well-earned recognition

Leaders from selected colleges noted that making the list is recognition of their work in helping students succeed.

“We are moving the needle in student success, and the invitation from the Aspen Institute recognizes the efforts by CSM’s many dedicated staff and faculty who are working in concert to see positive changes occur in student outcomes,” Maureen Murphy, president of the College of Southern Maryland (CSM), said in a statement.

San Jacinto College in Texas again made the list. And although it was a 2017 Aspen Institute Rising Star recipient, Chancellor Brenda Hellyer said there’s always room to improve.

“Our faculty and staff continue to find new and innovative ways to keep our students engaged and on a path to complete their certificate or associate degree,” she said in a statement. “We know our work is about changing lives and that happens with our students completing what they start. We want them to have the skills and knowledge they need to move on to a four-year university or enter the workforce in a rewarding career.”

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize include Lake Area Technical College in South Dakota (2017); Santa Fe College in Florida (2015); co-winners Santa Barbara City College in California and Walla Walla Community College in Washington (2013); Valencia College in Florida (2011 inaugural prize winner). Former winners are not eligible to reapply this cycle.

The 2019 Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation and the Siemens Foundation.

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