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Spotlight on Community Colleges Vying for Prize

Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated 120 community colleges that – due to exceptional student outcomes – were selected by the Aspen Institute to compete for the inaugural $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

Last October, at the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges, President Obama announced the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, a new, privately-funded prize to recognize, reward, and inspire outstanding outcomes in community colleges nationwide. 

Yesterday, Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated the 120 community colleges that – due to exceptional student outcomes – were selected by the Aspen Institute to compete for the inaugural $1 million purse.  In Round Two, the Aspen Institute will invite these 120 eligible institutions to submit applications containing additional detailed data on completion rates, labor market outcomes (employment and earnings), and student learning outcomes.  Eight to ten finalists will be named in September and – following campus visits by Aspen in the Fall - prize winners will be announced in December.

Excellence in community colleges is critical to reaching President Obama’s goal that the U.S. lead the world in college graduates by 2020 and to preparing the American workforce to compete in the global economy.

“We need to do everything we can to shine a spotlight on community colleges,” Secretary Duncan said in his remarks.

That is why we are so excited about the Aspen Prize.  It matches the President’s vision for creating a world class community college system and deploys an innovative model – a prize competition - to accelerate transformation nationwide.

As the Obama Administration invests in community colleges through a $2 billion Federal grant program, the prize will shine a spotlight on successful community colleges  and help distil best practices. In doing so the competition will serve as a launching pad for  networking among education leaders with similar challenges and concerns.

As the new industry-led Skills for America’s Future strives to dramatically improve private-sector partnerships with community colleges, the Aspen Prize will contribute to the development of clear, high-quality benchmarks that empower not only prospective students, but also businesses, to get a clear sense of a community college’s effectiveness, trajectory, and commitment to reform.   

Focusing the field on a clear and bold definition of success, honoring excellence with prizes and prestige, and accelerating the spread of successful practices, the Aspen prize provides an opportunity to galvanize the work of reform-minded educators, state legislators, employers, and community college presidents across the Nation. 

President Obama has championed prizes as powerful mechanisms when deployed within a broader strategy for spurring innovation. In that spirit, The Aspen Prize is an important piece of a movement to recognize the vital work of community colleges and to encourage all sectors to work together to achieve success for their students. 

Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator who continues to teach at Northern Virginia Community College, spoke at yesterday’s event of the power of successful community colleges to change lives.  “I have visited some of the institutions on this list,” she said, “and at these and at all of the other community colleges I have visited, I have seen innovative job partnerships and creative student support programs that are making a difference.”

We congratulate all of the community colleges chosen to compete and look forward to continuing to work with Aspen to celebrate excellence and strengthen community colleges.

Sonal Shah is the Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation