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Aspen Prize winner to be named in March

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​Former state governors John Engler (left) and Richard Riley will again co-chair a panel that will select the Aspen Prize winner.

Photo: Matthew Dembicki 

​The Aspen Institute announced on Wednesday the 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which recognizes high achievement and performance among U.S. community colleges.

The prize, inaugurated in 2011, recognizes top-performing institutions selected from more than 1,000 community colleges for their achievements in four areas: student learning outcomes, degree and college completion, labor market success in students securing jobs after college, and minority and low-income student success.

The Aspen Prize finalists are (in alphabetical order):

*Earned this distinction for a second straight year. According to program rules, last year’s winner, Valencia College (Florida), is not eligible for the prize this year. 

“All the community colleges selected today have demonstrated strong performance and improvement when it comes to equipping students with access to the knowledge and skills they need to succeed,” Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, said in a statement. “Despite increased pressure in today’s economic climate to do more with less, these institutions are implementing institution-wide solutions that show real results. We applaud their commitment to achieving success for all students in learning, graduation, and getting competitive-wage jobs after college.”

Nearly half of all college students attend community college, with more than seven million students—youth and adult learners—enrolled across America, including rapidly growing lower-income and Hispanic student populations.

Selecting a short list and winner

The 10 finalists were selected from a pared-down list of 120 announced in April. An advisory committee in community college data and performance—co-chaired by William Trueheart, chief executive officer of Achieving the Dream, and Keith Bird, former college president and state community college system chancellor—developed a formula to select the 120 based on publicly available data.

The formula considered three factors, each weighted equally:

  • Performance (retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 “full time equivalent” students)
  • Improvement (steady improvement in each performance metric over time)
  • Equity (evidence of completion outcomes for minority and low-income students)

A 14-member finalist selection committee—comprising former community college presidents, researchers and policy experts—reviewed new data and descriptions from applications submitted by 96 institutions in June, and then chose 10 institutions that they determined deliver exceptional and improving completion rates and made notable efforts to improve labor-market and learning outcomes.

This fall, the Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each finalist to gather additional data, including employment and earnings outcomes for each college’s graduates. Following a review process, a “prize jury” co-chaired again by John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and former governor of Michigan, and Richard Riley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. Secretary of Education, will select a grand prize winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction to be announced in March 2013.

The prize purse this year is again $1 million, which will be shared between the grand-prize winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction. Last year, the winner received $600,000, and each of the four finalists received $100,000 each.

(Below, Aspen Institute's Josh Wyner discusses the purpose of the Aspen Prize.)

 

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