Beating the odds, these 150 community colleges are now eligible for $1 million

The Aspen Prize honors institutions aiming to ensure better outcomes for all students.
By: | November 3, 2021

These are challenging times for community colleges. Enrollments have fallen by double digits since March 2020, hurting mostly underserved students, and the hope of millions of dollars in federal relief to institutions through the Build Back Better plan has been dashed.

But two-year institutions continue to serve and fight, and those that excel against the odds are being recognized again by the nonprofit Aspen Institute.

The 150 colleges that are best working to ensure student success, equity and relevant career pathways—especially to those from low-income and Black and Latinx communities—are eligible this year to earn the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

The group comes from all areas of the United States, representing 60 states, some with enrollment just over 200 students to massive districts that serve 57,000. They will get the opportunity to show how successful their outcomes have been over the past year to a panel of 15 judges who will be focused on five criteria: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. The panel will then whittle that big list down to 10 finalists next fall before choosing a winner in the spring of 2023.

San Antonio College, the most recent champion, posted four-year transfer rates and six-year completion rates that surpassed the national average by eight and nine points, respectively, and saw its graduation rates jump by almost 20 points in four years to 48%.

“Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there,” Wyner said. “They are committed to ensuring that all students with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university.”

The efforts of the top 10  last year were highlighted during the 2021 Prize ceremony by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Dr. Jill Biden, who called community colleges “a powerful engine of prosperity.” Many of those finalists are eligible again for the $1 million prize this year, including Borough of Manhattan Community College in New York; Pasadena City College in California; Pierce College District in Washington; Broward College and Tallahassee Community College in Florida; West Kentucky Community and Technical College: and Amarillo College, Odessa College and San Jacinto College in Texas.

Here is the complete list, which represents 15% of all community colleges nationwide:

ALABAMA: Northeast Alabama Community College Snead State Community College

ARIZONA: Paradise Valley Community College

ARKANSAS: Arkansas State University-Mountain Home, Ozarka College, Southern Arkansas University Tech, University of Arkansas Community College Rich Mountain

CALIFORNIA: Allan Hancock College, Antelope Valley College, Bakersfield College, Butte College, Citrus College, Clovis Community College, Cypress College, De Anza College, Feather River Community College, District Golden West College, Hacienda La Puente Adult Education, Imperial Valley College, Irvine Valley College, Los Medanos College, MiraCosta College, Moorpark College, Mt. San Antonio College, Napa Valley College, Ohlone College, Orange Coast College, Oxnard College, Pasadena City College, Saddleback College, Santa Monica College, Santa Rosa Junior College, Sierra College, Ventura College, West Hills College-Lemoore, West Los Angeles College

FLORIDA: Broward College, Chipola College, College of Central Florida, Daytona State College, Eastern Florida State College, Florida Gateway College, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Gulf Coast State College, North Florida College, Palm Beach State College, Saint Johns River State College, Seminole State College of Florida, South Florida State College, Tallahassee Community College

GEORGIA: Albany Technical College, Athens Technical College, Georgia Highlands College, Lanier Technical College, Ogeechee Technical College, South Georgia Technical College, Southern Crescent Technical College, Southern Regional Technical College, Wiregrass Georgia Technical College

IDAHO: College of Eastern Idaho

ILLINOIS: Carl Sandburg College, Elgin Community College, Frontier Community College, Lake Land College, Lewis and Clark Community College, Lincoln Trail College, Olney Central College, Rend Lake College, Wabash Valley College, William Rainey Harper College

IOWA: Iowa Lakes Community College, North Iowa Area Community College, Northwest Iowa Community College

KANSAS: Cloud County Community College, Coffeyville Community College, Flint Hills Technical College, North Central Kansas Technical College, Northwest Kansas Technical College, Salina Area Technical College

KENTUCKY: West Kentucky Community and Technical College

LOUISIANA: Central Louisiana Technical Community College, South Louisiana Community College

MARYLAND: Anne Arundel Community College, Frederick Community College

MINNESOTA: Alexandria Technical & Community College, Dakota County Technical College, Leech Lake Tribal College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College

MISSISSIPPI: Copiah-Lincoln Community College, East Mississippi Community College, Itawamba Community College, Hinds Community College, Holmes Community College, Pearl River Community College, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

MISSOURI: State Technical College of Missouri

NEBRASKA: Central Community College, Northeast Community College

NEW HAMPSHIRE: White Mountains Community College

NEW JERSEY: Ocean County College, Union County College

NEW MEXICO: Central New Mexico Community College

NEW YORK: CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY Hostos Community College, CUNY Kingsborough Community College, CUNY LaGuardia Community College, CUNY Queensborough Community College, CUNY Stella and Charles Guttman Community College

NORTH CAROLINA: Catawba Valley Community College, College of the Albemarle, Edgecombe Community College, Montgomery Community College, Southwestern Community College, Wayne Community College

NORTH DAKOTA: Bismarck State College

OHIO: Cuyahoga Community College District

PENNSYLVANIA: Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology

SOUTH DAKOTA: Mitchell Technical Institute, Southeast Technical Institute, Western Dakota Technical College

TEXAS: Alvin Community College, Amarillo College, Lee College, Northwest Vista College, San Jacinto Community College, Southwest Texas Junior College, Texas State Technical College, Trinity Valley Community College

UTAH: Snow College

VERMONT: Vermont Technical College

VIRGINIA: Wytheville Community College

WASHINGTON: Bellingham Technical College, Clark College, Columbia Basin College, Green River College, Highline College, Pierce College District, Renton Technical College, South Puget Sound Community College, Wenatchee Valley College, Yakima Valley College

WEST VIRGINIA: Blue Ridge Community and Technical College

WISCONSIN: Chippewa Valley Technical College, Fox Valley Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College, Nicolet Area Technical College, Northcentral Technical College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Western Technical College, Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

WYOMING: Northern Wyoming Community College District