Aspen Institute Publishes Community College Excellence Data

July 19, 2012

Contact: Rachel Roth
Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence
202-736-2924 |

Aspen Releases Unique Data Set On Community College Performance; Demonstrates Outstanding Outcomes by 120 Colleges in Student Retention, Degrees Awarded, Graduation and Transfer Rates, and Minority and Low-Income Student Success

Washington, DC, July 19, 2012 – In its ongoing commitment to highlight excellence in America’s community colleges, the Aspen Institute today published data that identifies which institutions excel in the following:

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

Key Measures of Performance | Click to view larger imageThe metrics are used to determine the 120 top U.S. community colleges that are eligible for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The Aspen College Excellence Program is the first to compile and analyze this unique data set, setting a benchmark for excellence in the community college sector. To download the data, visit:

These institutions demonstrate strong performance when compared with the 1,008 public U.S. community colleges in first-year retention rate, three-year graduation and transfer rate, and credentials awarded per 100 “full-time equivalent” (FTE) students. They also demonstrate above average performance for underrepresented minority and low income students, dispelling the idea that an individual’s race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status necessarily result in low levels of educational attainment.

“Aspen hopes that all community colleges will examine the quantitative outcomes of the 120 community colleges on this list to understand that much higher levels of student success are possible,” said Josh Wyner, Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Executive Director. “Every community college can find a peer institution on this list, whether they are an urban community college oriented to delivering transfer-oriented associates’ degrees or a rural one focused on technical workforce credentials.”

Aspen’s College Excellence Program announced the 120 top community colleges in April, challenging them to compete for the $1 million fund for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The 120 eligible community colleges were selected from a national pool of more than 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, chief executive officer of Achieving the Dream, and Keith Bird, former chancellor of the Kentucky Community College System.

On May 25th, Aspen received applications from ninety-six institutions. A list of the institutions that applied for the Prize is available at: (Aspen is aware that the application requires significant time and effort, and the decision to apply for the Prize in no way reflects the excellence of each community college.)

Information provided in the applications will allow Aspen to identify institutions that not only demonstrate excellence in terms of graduation rates, degrees awarded, student retention rates, and equity in student outcomes, but that also achieve success in terms of improving learning outcomes for students and employing graduates in jobs with competitive salaries. As important as these quantitative data are, the Aspen Institute will also use qualitative data to understand how the institutions have achieved exceptional student results in each of these domains. For instance, how have colleges worked to align student success expectations with post-graduation success whether in the labor market or in transfer to 4-year college? How do colleges improve program structures and student services to enable higher levels of student graduation? How do professors work to understand and improve learning by students in their classrooms? Finally, how do colleges increase the achievement levels of low income-and minority students?

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


About The Aspen Institute

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 is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

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