College Excellence Program

The Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve 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.

Program Updates


The Promise of Universal Community College

"The president’s proposal offers a chance for our nation to reset the dynamic of who goes to college. Too often, the answer has been: Whoever could navigate the application process and afford tuition.The possibility for tomorrow: Anyone willing to make the commitment."

Josh Wyner comments on President Obama’s recently announced proposal for free community college. To read more, click here.

Hiring Exceptional Community College Presidents

Hiring Exceptional Community College Presidents

Aspen CEP's Hiring Exceptional Community College Presidents: Tools for Hiring Leaders who Advance Student Access and Success contains customizable open-access tools to help boards of trustees, search committees, and search consultants identify and hire community college presidents who have the qualities and abilities needed to lead their institutions to high and improving levels of student success. The tools include sample job announcement language, a rubric for evaluating candidates, and questions for in-person interviews. At a time of rapid turnover in the community college presidency and a fast-changing higher education landscape, we hope these tools will help hiring committees find presidents capable of propelling their institutions to significant improvements in student success. To learn more click here.



The Aspen Institute announced the ten finalists for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's preeminent recognition of high achievement and improvement in America's community colleges. The Aspen Prize, awarded every two years, recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges. With a singular focus on student success, the Aspen Prize assesses community colleges' achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, high rates of employment and earnings for graduates, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. To read more, click here. For the full list of finalists, click here.

What Excellent Community Colleges Do Wyner Cover

On March 13, 2014, the Aspen Institute held a book talk for What Excellent Community Colleges Do: Preparing All Students for Success by Joshua Wyner. Published by Harvard Education Press, this book offers inspiring stories about what Aspen Prize winning community colleges have done to achieve exceptional levels of student success. To see the full video of the book talk, moderated by Aspen Institute President and CEO, Walter Isaacson, click here. To see more on the book, click here. You can order the book through Harvard Education Press, or on Amazon.  

Our Work

Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

The purpose of the Aspen Prize is to recognize community colleges with outstanding academic and workforce outcomes in both absolute performance and improvements over time. By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize honors excellence, stimulates innovation, and creates benchmarks for measuring progress.

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New College Leadership Project

Efforts to improve college student success have accelerated in recent years, focused largely on the need to increase graduation rates which currently stand at about 50% nationally.  With the majority of college presidents over 60 years old, higher education systems and institutions have an opportunity and challenge: how to recruit, hire, and prepare the next generation of college presidents so that they can lead institutions to higher levels of student success.

The New College Leadership Program aims to help meet that challenge through research into the attributes and actions of college presidents whose institutions achieve high levels of student success, and programs that work to increase the number of college presidents with the ability to replicate exceptional results.  In our first initiative, we partnered with the national non-profit organization Achieving the Dream to conduct research and issued a report on the qualities of presidents who lead Aspen Prize winning community colleges and ATD leader colleges. For more information, including links to the Crisis and Opportunity report, please click here.