Aspen Institute Ranks Community Colleges; $1 Million Prize Offered

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Community colleges across the country are faced with record enrollments coinciding with budgetary cutbacks. This squeeze on an education system that has been a proven model for nearly a half century has threatened the livelihood of countless schools across the nation.

Aspen Prize

Despite these challenges, community colleges are finding ways to stay afloat and answer the demand for higher education. The Aspen Institute, whose mission is to foster values-based leadership, by 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, is championing community colleges. The Institute recently recognized what it believes are the top 120 two-year schools in the nation and has challenged them to compete for it $1 million fund for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

Coinciding with its selection of 120 schools in 32 states, the Institute also named a jury to choose 10 finalists for the prize. The first place winner will receive approximately $700,000 with two to three runners up dividing the remaining funds. 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 have been named to co-chair the jury.

Promoting Education

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 and wife of U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden, 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.”

Qualifying Colleges

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.

Source: The Aspen Institute

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