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2014 September 16 - 05:07 am

Aspen Prize Finalists Announced

Ten Colleges Will Vie for Prestigious Award, $1 Million Prize

The Aspen Institute has announced the ten finalists for the prestigious 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, and the group reflects the rich diversity of the nation’s community colleges.

The institutions range from El Paso Community College in El Paso, Texas, with a majority Latino student body of about 40,000, to the tiny Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, S.D., with just 1,700 students, to the urban Eugenio María de Hostos Community College, located in the nation’s poorest congressional district in the Bronx, N.Y.

The list also includes three colleges from Florida, Texas and Washington, two colleges that have been finalists three times before and two colleges which reached the finals for a second time.

Awarded every two years, the prize recognizes institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges. When the 2015 award is

handed out next March, it will be the third time the award has been issued. The 2013 prize was shared by Santa Barbara City College (Calif.) and Walla Walla Community College (Wash.). In 2011, Valencia College (Fla.) was the inaugural prize winner. According to the prize rules, former winners were not eligible to apply for this cycle.

The prize assesses community colleges’ achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, high rates of employment and earnings for graduates, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.

“After three years of administering this prize, we’ve learned that even the colleges facing the biggest challenges are able to dramatically and continuously improve student education,” said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Progra, in a prepared statement. “These institutions offer lessons for other colleges about how entire institutions can increase the amount students learn so they graduate and get good jobs. Ultimately, these community colleges prove that the goals of open access and student success can be attained within the same educational setting.”

Community colleges success is considered more important than ever before. Nearly half of all college students attend community college, with more than 7 million students working toward degrees and certificates. This includes rapidly growing numbers of lowerincome and minority students.

By 2018, 60 percent of American jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education. Constrained family budgets, mounting student debt and skyrocketing tuition will only serve to increase the appeal of community colleges. With average tuition of about $3,000 per year, less than half the average at public four-year colleges, community colleges offer an affordable path to a degree.

Aspen’s Finalist Selection Committee, made up of former community college presidents, researchers and policy experts, selected the ten finalist institutions after reviewing extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce outcomes, and equitable outcomes for all students, especially those in traditionally underserved racial/ethnic groups — African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American — and those from low-income backgrounds. Of the 150 institutions named eligible in January, over one hundred applied to compete for the Prize.

This fall, the Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the ten finalist institutions. A prize jury will select a grand prize winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction to be announced in March 2015. The winner gets a $1 million prize.

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