150 colleges eligible for 2021 Aspen Prize

The Aspen Institute on Tuesday announced the 150 community colleges that are eligible to compete for its $1 million 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence — including 62 colleges that weren’t eligible for the 2019 Aspen Prize.

The Aspen Prize review committee looked at more than 1,000 community colleges and invited 150 to apply based on their achievement and improvement in student success. Located in 39 states in urban, rural and suburban areas, and serving as few as 500 students and as many as 75,000 students, the selected colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector, according to the Aspen College Excellence Program.

Among states, California had the most number of selected colleges (19), followed by Texas (14), Florida (13), Illinois (11), Kansas (9) and Arizona and Mississippi (7 each). These seven states also had the most number of eligible colleges for the 2019 Aspen Prize.

“One of the primary goals of the Aspen Prize is to elevate the community college sector by highlighting institutions that achieve great outcomes as examplars of what community colleges can do for students, communities and the country,” said Joshua Wyner, a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the institute’s College Excellence programs.

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.

Three cheers

Many of the selected colleges rolled out their press announcements throughout the day and posted on social media. Several highlighted some of the achievements that helped them make the list.

Dianna Phillips, president of Harford Community College, said that the Maryland college is the “anchor institution for higher education” in the county.

“We are a community of educators who pride ourselves on fostering academic growth and achievement and preparing our students for a successful future,” she said in a press release. “Our campus is a resilient community — an environment where students can progress, persist and thrive.”

Amarillo College (AC) in Texas noted that over the past few years it has increased efforts to boost access for more students by eliminating life barriers and offering better student support services. As a result, student success has increased, the college said. In 2010, the graduation rate at AC was just 9 percent. It stayed at 15 percent for several years and most recently jumped up to 31 percent.

“I’m so proud for our @AmarilloCollege students, faculty, staff and regents. We work hard to ensure a culture of caring that leads to completion and a living wage,” President Russell Lowery-Hart wrote on Twitter. “Today is an acknowledgment of true, deep commitment to love our students to success. #cultureofcaring #successis”

North Arkansas College President Randy Esters said his college focuses on student success and providing a variety of holistic, wraparound services designed to support students.

“We continue to support their success even after they leave us for the university or the career field,” he added.

In Ohio, Lorain County Community College redesigned programs and systems to best meet students’ needs, while also developing a highly skilled workforce to meet employers’ needs and to drive the economy, said President Marcia Ballinger.

College of Southern Maryland President Maureen Murphy said the Aspen Prize invitation “recognizes not only the significant work we are carrying out to advance student learning but also our commitment and achievements to close equity gaps for our underrepresented minorities.”

Some colleges have become regulars on the list. Texas’s Alvin Community College received an invite for the 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2019 Prize — and again for 2021.

“I am so proud of our faculty, staff and students for their hard work in achieving this honor,” President Christal Albrecht wrote on Twitter.

Next steps

The top 10 finalists for the 2021 Aspen Prize will be named in May 2020. 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 2021 a grand prize winner, finalists with distinction and rising stars.

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize include:

Former winners are not eligible to reapply this cycle.

The Joyce Foundation and Siemens Foundation are currently the funders for this cycle of the prize.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.