Aspen Institute Names America’s Ten Finalist Community Colleges for First-Ever $1 Million Aspen Prize Fund

September 13, 2011

Contact: Rachel Roth
Program Manager
Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

Top Community College and Runners-up to be Announced in December; Focus is on Excellence as Defined by Learning, Completion, Equity and Employment After College

Washington, D.C., September 13, 2011 – Highlighting the critical importance of demonstrably improving student outcomes in America’s community colleges, the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program today announced the nation’s ten finalist community colleges that were selected from an original pool of 1,200.  ** (see finalists below)**  Following a rigorous review process, one of the ten finalists will be named in December as the winner of the first annual Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, with up to three runners-up sharing in the $1 million prize fund.

This is the first national recognition of extraordinary accomplishments at individual community colleges, and follows on the April project launch and previous White House Community College Summit that attracted participation and support from President Obama, as well as luminaries in American education, labor, business and civil society. 

Nearly half of all college students attend community college, with more than six million students – youth and adult learners – enrolling in America’s nearly 1,200 community colleges every year.   Community colleges are also educating rapidly growing lower-income and Hispanic student populations, and for millions of Americans, represent their most promising path to education and employment.  

With four-year colleges and universities costing from $10,000-$60,000 per year per student, community colleges are growing at over four times the rate of four-year colleges, serving as the most affordable option in higher education for millions of people in this country.  

The ten community colleges selected to be finalists today reflect the diversity of America – from Mississipi Gulf Coast Community College to Florida’s Miami Dade Community College, the largest institution in American higher education, with almost 175,000 students, and from Walla Walla Community College in Washington to West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah, Kentucky.  

“All the community colleges selected today represent the best of what we all want from these institutions,” said Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.   “They are relentlessly focused on three non-negotiable outcomes – a high bar for learning, a focus on college completion, and real attention to preparing their students for 21st century jobs. Needless to say, no institution is perfect, and each school in America – from elementary through higher education – has its own challenges – particularly in today’s economic climate.  But, we believe that these ten embody many of the elements that all community colleges should seek to emulate.”

Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University professor and former member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, chaired the national selection committee.  She noted that the finalists “impressed us with their efforts to help students succeed in college as well as to ensure that their programs would prepare students to compete successfully in the labor market.  These community colleges are demonstrating that improving student achievement can be accomplished, even in the most economically distressed communities in our country.”

The original pool of 1,200 community colleges was pared to 120 in April, based on data that was analyzed by an expert advisory committee familiar with evaluating excellence in higher education.  The data focused on college completion, considered from three perspectives, each weighed equally: performance, factoring in retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 “full time equivalent” students; improvement of completion performance over time; and equity, based on institutional records for completion outcomes for disadvantaged students.

The ten finalists named today from the 120 were selected by a nine-member Finalist Selection Committee, comprised of former community college presidents, respected researchers and policy experts.  They identified institutions that deliver exceptional and improving completion rates, and labor-market and learning outcomes, following a review of new data collected from applications submitted by eligible institutions in June.  

The grand prize winner and runners-up will be selected by a “prize jury” co-chaired by John Engler, former Michigan Governor and current President of the Business Roundtable, and Richard Riley, former Secretary of Education and Governor of South Carolina.  

Aspen’s Wyner emphasized that this competition offers an unprecedented opportunity to spotlight and celebrate excellence at a time when community college success is more important to the nation than ever before.  “It’s pretty simple, but the stakes are high,” he said.  “In an era where a college degree is the ticket to the middle class, real educational opportunity for our citizens and real economic growth for our country will depend on our community colleges.” 

The Aspen Prize Finalists are (in alphabetical order)

Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD
Contact: LuAnn Strait, (605) 882-5284 ext. 241,

Miami Dade College, Miami, FL
Contact: Juan Mendieta, (305) 237-7611, 

Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Perkinston, MS
Contact: Monica Miller Marlowe, (601) 928-6337, 

Mott Community College, Flint, MI
Contact: Michael Kelly, (810) 762-0456,

Northeast Iowa Community College-Calmar, Calmar, IA
Contact: Tracy Kruse, (563) 562-3263 ext. 251, 

Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA
Contact: Joan Galvan, (805) 730-4107, 

Southwest Texas Junior College, Uvalde, TX
Contact: Willie Edwards, (830) 591-7222, 

Valencia College, Orlando, FL
Contact: Lucy Boudet, (407) 234-6443, 

Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA
Contact:  Melissa Harrison, (509) 527-4675,

West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY
Contact: Janett Blythe, (270) 534-3079, 


The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

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, projects targeting a new generation of college leaders, 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.    

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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