Aspen Institute Names Ten Top Finalists for 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

September 5, 2012

Contact: Rachel Roth
Program Manager
Aspen College Excellence Program
202-736-2924 |

$1 Million Prize Rewards “Excellence”: Outstanding Outcomes in Learning, Completion, Minority and Low-Income Student Success, and Employment After College; Top Community College to be Announced in March

Washington, D.C., September 5, 2012 – The Aspen Institute announced today the ten finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges. The Prize, inaugurated in 2011, recognizes the most outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of 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.

 “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,” said Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “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.  

With four-year colleges and universities costing from $10,000-$60,000 per year per student, community colleges, growing at over four times the rate of four-year colleges, remain the most affordable option in higher education for millions of people in this country.   In fact, average tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased 1.8% per year from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010 after adjusting for inflation, compared to 4.9% at public four-year colleges and universities.

The ten community colleges named as finalists today were selected from an original national pool of over 1,000, and pared down to a list of 120 in April. An advisory committee expert 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 – devised 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 five years]
  • Equity [evidence of completion outcomes for minority and low-income students]

A 14-member Finalist Selection Committee — comprised of former community college presidents, respected researchers and policy experts – reviewed new data and descriptions  from applications submitted by 96 institutions in June, and then chose ten institutions that deliver exceptional and improving completion rates, and made notable efforts to improve labor-market and learning outcomes.

The Aspen Ten Top Finalists selected today reflect the diversity of America – from the large ethnically diverse Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with 60,000 students, to the small-town more homogeneous Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota with an enrollment of 1,500, and from the urban Kingsborough Community College, part of the City University of New York in Brooklyn, to the suburban Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Texas.

In addition, four community colleges from last year’s final ten repeated their achievement for a second time: Lake Area Technical Institute (SD), Santa Barbara City College (CA), Walla Walla Community College (WA), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College.  According to the Prize rules, last year’s winner, Valencia, was not eligible to apply again this year. 
This fall, the Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the ten finalist institutions and gather extensive additional data, including employment and earnings outcomes for each college’s graduates. Following a rigorous review process, a distinguished Prize Jury co-chaired 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 winner of the inaugural Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence awarded in December 2011 was Valencia College which shared the $1 million Prize fund with four finalists-with-distinction. Valencia’s president Sanford Shugart said, “All eyes are on us – on all community colleges – to raise the bar, to not only educate but also transform our nation’s workforce. It’s possible to improve student achievement. We know how to do this.”

Aspen’s Wyner emphasized that colleges like Valencia and this year’s Prize finalists represent the accomplishments of the best community colleges – big and small – that too often go unnoticed. “We’re showcasing excellence at a time when community college success is more important to the nation than ever before. The leaders, faculty, and staff on these ten colleges’ campuses are working incredibly hard to meet the increasing demands being placed on two-year institutions.  They deserve deep respect and admiration for what they are doing to enable student success,” he said.
The Aspen Prize Finalists are (in alphabetical order):

Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX
Contact: Serena Andrews, (979) 230-3245,

Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Contact: Aileen Izquierdo, (954) 201-7540,

College of the Ouachitas, Malvern, AR
Contact: Amber Childers, (501) 332-0234,
Kingsborough Community College – CUNY, Brooklyn, NY
Contact: Ruby Ryles, (718) 368-5543,

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

Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA*
Contact: Joan Galvan, (805) 965-0581 x2307,

Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL
Contact: David Houder, (352) 381-3625,

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Cumberland, KY
Contact:  Chris Jones, (606) 589-3003,

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,

Four of the colleges on the list earned this distinction for a second straight year (indicated by an asterisk)


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