At a time when Americans are struggling to find jobs and political leaders are debating how to jump start and fuel economic recovery, more focus should be set on what is happening on America’s community college campuses.
Educating over seven million degree-seeking students, community colleges offer the kind of affordable, job-relevant training needed to provide people the skills they need to retool and gain a foothold in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. Perhaps that is why enrollment at community colleges has been growing much faster than at four-year colleges.
Against this backdrop, the Aspen Institute will announce on Monday, December 12, the first annual winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, as well as four finalists-with-distinction. These community colleges focus intensely on student outcomes, working hard to ensure that more students earn their degrees and paying attention to what students actually learn along the way. They also make sure that what students learn and the degrees they complete have value, both for students who directly enter the workforce and those who transfer to four-year colleges.
It is time for our nation to recognize excellence in the community college sector and provide support for those community colleges deeply committed to improving student success. As importantly, for the community college student success rate to increase beyond its current low levels nationally, more community colleges need to look beyond their own campus boundaries to identify excellent practices that significantly improve student success.
Beginning Monday, the Aspen Institute looks forward to sharing what the winners of the Prize teach us about how to improve completion, learning, and employment outcomes for all community college students, including the growing population of low-income and minority students enrolled in two-year colleges.
For the names of the winning colleges, which will share in a million dollar purse, and more about what we have learned during the year-long Prize process, check back here on Monday, December 12 at 2:00 PM.
Joshua Wyner is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.