Aspen Institute Ranks Top 120 Community Colleges In the United States; Announces Eligibility for First-Ever $1 Million Prize Fund For Excellence

April 25, 2011

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

Project to Benefit Six Million Students is Endorsed by National Leaders in Business, Labor, Education, Civil Rights

Washington, DC, April 25 –In its first step to significantly improve community college student outcomes, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program today ranked the nation’s 120 best community colleges—the top 10 percent in the country—and challenged them to compete for the $1 million fund for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Each of the 120 colleges ranked has demonstrated high standards for learning, college completion without delay, and community colleges as training grounds for jobs that pay competitive wages, making them eligible for the prize. A full list of the 120 community colleges is available at  Prize winners will be announced in December 2011.

The Aspen Institute also today named a high-profile jury to select ten finalists for the prize, and select the winner that will receive an award of approximately $700,000 as well as two to three runners up. Former Michigan Governor John Engler, currently president of the Business Roundtable and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and former Secretary of Education Richard Riley will co-chair the jury.

Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, attended the Aspen Institute’s announcement event today.  The Aspen prize was announced at the White House Community College Summit hosted by President Obama and Dr. Biden in October.

More than six million students – youth and adult learners – enroll in America’s nearly 1,200 community colleges every year.

Citing the urgent need to focus on the value and potential of community colleges, Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Executive Director Josh Wyner said, “We cannot be satisfied merely with the fact that students are admitted to college. We must set the bar for community colleges much higher. We must graduate students with degrees and certificates that make clear to families investing in education and employers looking to hire, that community college graduates have learned what they need to be successful in their lives and careers.

“Unprecedented numbers of students are choosing to attend community college as the cost of four-year college grows increasingly out of reach for many families in America. To ensure student success and fuel economic growth for communities and the nation, community colleges must—now more than ever—make a commitment to excellence and stronger student outcomes.”

Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator who continues to teach English at Northern Virginia Community College, noted that “The country is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of community colleges in educating our way to a stronger America. I am inspired by all of today’s community college students – the workers who have returned to school to improve their job prospects, the mothers who juggle jobs and childcare while preparing for new careers, and those who work diligently while at community college, preparing to transfer to a four-year institution.”

The 120 community colleges announced today were selected from a national pool of nearly 1,200 using publicly available data on student outcomes. The data was 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, each weighed equally:

  • Performance (retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 “full time equivalent” students)
  • Improvement (improvement of completion performance over time)
  • Equity (institutional record for completion outcomes for disadvantaged students)

The 120 community colleges named today are eligible 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, use data to drive decisions, and continually improve over time.

Eight to ten finalists will be named in September. The Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the finalists in the fall. Based on this evidence, the Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner and two-to-three runners-up, to be announced in December.

Governor Engler emphasized the tremendous importance of community colleges in preparing the high-tech workforce American companies need. “I am thrilled about the Prize setting a high bar that will hopefully challenge all community colleges to graduate even more students with the skills, certificates and degrees America’s 21st century economy requires.”


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.

View Comments