April 23, 2012

Contact: Rachel Roth
Program Manager
Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
202-736-2924
rachel.roth@aspeninstitute.org

Nation’s Signature Recognition of Excellence, Chosen from over 1,000 Community Colleges Which Serve Nearly Half of All Undergraduates in U.S.
Focus on Excellence as Defined by Learning Outcomes, Degree Completion, Equity and Employment After College

Washington, DC, April 23, 2012 –Highlighting the critical importance of improving student success in America’s community colleges, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program today named 120 top community colleges, challenging them to compete for the $1 million fund for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Aspen Institute identified the 120 community colleges -- 10 percent of all institutions -- using a quantitative formula that assesses performance and improvement in four areas: graduation rates, degrees awarded, student retention rates, and equity in student outcomes. These colleges will now compete for the prestigious honor following a year-long research process into how well their students learn, complete degrees, and get jobs with competitive wages after graduating. A full list of the 120 community colleges is available at www.AspenPrize.org. Prize winners will be announced in March 2013.

The inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was awarded to the 70,000-student Valencia College (Orlando, Florida) in December 2011. It was the first broad national recognition of extraordinary accomplishments at individual community colleges.

Some seven million students – youth and adult learners – enroll in America's 1,200 community colleges every year.

"The success of our nation's community colleges is more important than ever before," said Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Executive Director Josh Wyner who yesterday announced the names of the 120 top community colleges at the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges in Orlando, Florida. "At a time when a college degree is essential to entering the middle class, community colleges offer the most promising path to education and employment for literally millions of Americans. This competition spotlights excellence and helps raise the bar for all community colleges to improve student achievement and better prepare the next generation for the job market after college."

The 120 community colleges announced today were selected from a national pool of over 1,000 public two-year colleges using publicly available data on student outcomes. The data were analyzed by an expert advisory committee co-chaired by William Trueheart, CEO of Achieving the Dream, and Keith Bird, former chancellor of the Kentucky Community College System. The data focuses on completion, considered from three perspectives:

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

These community colleges have been invited to submit applications containing detailed data on degree/certificate completion (including progress and transfer rates), labor market outcomes (employment and earnings) and student learning outcomes. They must demonstrate that they deliver exceptional student results for all students – including those who come from racial minority and/or low-income backgrounds – and also use data to inform decisions and continually improve over time.

Ten finalists will be named in September. The Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the finalists in the fall. A distinguished Prize Jury co-chaired by John Engler, president of Business Roundtable, former Michigan Governor, and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers and Richard Riley, former South Carolina Governor and U.S. Secretary of Education, will select a grand prize winner and four runners-up, to be announced in March 2013.

"American employers have jobs open right now but lack enough skilled, educated workers to fill them," Engler said. "The job training programs at community colleges must play a central role in filling those gaps and preparing the American workforce. Community colleges' success will help determine whether and in what sectors America will continue to lead in the global economy."

While every community college faces challenges, particularly in today's economic climate, Secretary Riley underscored the importance of improving outcomes for community college students, the majority of whom are underrepresented minorities: "Many community colleges across this country are doing an excellent job of boosting student success, but we need to encourage all community colleges to achieve excellence. When students learn more, graduate or transfer to four-year institutions, and get competitive-wage jobs after college, it helps everyone - students, employers and our nation’s economy as a whole."

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The Aspen Prize is funded by America Achieves, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Lumina Foundation for Education.

The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate campus-wide practices that significantly improve college student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges' understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/aspen-prize.