Highlighting the critical importance of improving student success in America’s community colleges, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program recently named Northwest Kansas Technical College and Colby Community College as two of the nation’s top 150 community colleges eligible to compete for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and $1 million dollars in prize funds.
The Prize, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges and recognizes institutions for exceptional student outcomes in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.
The Aspen Institute identified the top 150 community colleges through an assessment of institutional performance, improvement, and equity on student retention and completion measures. Together, the 150 community colleges eligible to compete for the Prize represent the diversity and richness of the entire sector:
- They are located in 37 states across the nation;
- They represent urban, rural, and suburban markets; and
- They encompass big community colleges and small community colleges—from Miami Dade College in Florida serving over 100,000 students to Carver Career Center in West Virginia serving fewer than 500 students.
A full list of the 150 community colleges is available here. Prize winners will be announced in early 2015.
Nearly half of America’s college students attend community college, with more than seven
million students – youth and adult learners – working towards certificates and degrees in these institutions across the country.
“Community colleges have tremendous power to change lives, and their success will increasingly define our nation’s economic strength and the potential for social mobility for every American” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “This competition is designed to spotlight the excellent work being done in the most effective community colleges, those that best help students obtain meaningful, high-quality education and training for competitive-wage jobs after college. We hope it will raise the bar and provide a roadmap for community colleges nationwide.”
The 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was awarded to co-winners Santa Barbara City College (California) and Walla Walla Community College (Washington). Valencia College (Florida) was the inaugural Prize winner in 2011.
Northwest Tech, CCC, and 148 other community colleges were selected from a national pool of over 1,000 public two-year colleges using publicly available data on student outcomes. The formula used to select the colleges was devised by expert analysts at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems in consultation with an expert advisory committee convened by the Aspen Institute. The data focus on student retention and completion, considered from three perspectives:
- Performance (retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 “full-time equivalent” students)
- Improvement (awarded for steady improvement in each performance metric over time)
- Equity (evidence of strong completion outcomes for minority and low-income students)
To ensure full representation of the range and diversity of the sector, adjustments were applied with respect to mission, size, and minority representation.
The schools have been invited to submit an application 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 for all students – including those from racial minority and/or low-income backgrounds – and also use data to inform decisions and continually improve over time.
Ten finalists will be named in fall 2014. The Aspen Institute will then conduct site visits to each of the finalists and collect additional quantitative data, including employment and earnings data from states and transfer data from the National Student Clearinghouse. A distinguished Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner and a few finalists with distinction in early 2015.