Our Projects

Developing programs, practices and tools focused around achieving higher levels of student success. 

Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence

For millions of Americans, community colleges provide an essential pathway to well-paying jobs and continuing higher education. The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence honors those institutions that strive for and achieve exceptional levels of success for all students, while they are in college and after they graduate. “[The Aspen Prize is] basically the Oscars for great community colleges.” President Barack Obama, 2015.

Tackling Transfer

The majority of community college students aim to earn a bachelor’s degree, but only 14% do so within six years of entry. Aspen is working with several national partners to research transfer outcomes and replicate institutional practices that result in strong outcomes for transfer students.

Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence

The Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence is preparing the next generation of community college presidents to lead institutions that achieve exceptional outcomes for students in learning, completion, post-transfer success and the labor market—and equity in those outcomes for students historically underserved in higher education. Over the course of a ten-month program including residential seminars, structured mentoring, and development of an analytic portfolio, fellows are given the opportunity to learn from and alongside each other about strategies for achieving exceptional student outcomes. The Fellowship was designed and is delivered in collaboration with the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative.

American Talent Initiative

The American Talent Initiative (ATI) brings colleges and universities together with the philanthropy and research communities in order to expand access and opportunity for talented low- and moderate-income students.

Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM Award

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program has partnered with the Siemens Foundation to raise the profile of middle-skill jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and the excellent community college programs that deliver first-rate preparation of young adults for such jobs.

Tools for Hiring Community College Presidents

This set of open-access hiring tools—including job announcement language, interview questions, and a candidate evaluation rubric—is designed to help boards of trustees, search committees, search consultants, and others hire presidents capable of leading community colleges to high and improving levels of student success.

Frontier Set

The Frontier Set is a diverse set of high-performing two-and four-year colleges, universities, and state systems, all committed to significantly increasing student access and success and eliminating racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in college attainment.

North Carolina Roadmap to Excellence

Supported by the John M. Belk Endowment, the Aspen Institute is engaged in a project designed to advance student success practice and leadership in the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS).

Future of the College Presidency

In light of enormous turnover of college presidents and senior leaders, a shrinking pool of candidates, and the need for better systems for preparing diverse and non-traditional candidates for the job, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, in 2015, convened the Task Force on the Future of the College Presidency. Thirty-five distinguished presidents from across four sectors of higher education—research universities, community colleges, regional public universities, and liberal arts colleges—spent 18 months identifying major issues facing colleges and their presidents and crafting near- and long-term recommendations.

Labor Market

What colleges do to ensure that their graduates find labor market success matters. Out of the 11.6M jobs created in the post-recession economy, 11.5M require at least some education beyond high school. Aspen is researching how community colleges can drive both talent development and economic mobility in their regions.

Leading for Community College Excellence: Curricular Resources

The College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute has created Leading for Community College Excellence, a set of curricular resources complete with case studies, videos, discussion questions, and recommended activities designed to help existing graduate education and community college professional development programs produce exceptional leaders who can improve student success.

Guided Pathways

Students are more likely to complete a degree on time if they have a clear academic road map and receive strong support to help them get on a path early in their college careers and stay on the path through graduation. The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program is a partner in the American Association of Community Colleges Pathways Project, a collaborative effort to help community colleges design and implement structured academic and career pathways at scale for all students.
  • Download research as well as practice guides and tools generated through our work.
    Our publications offer concrete examples, strategies, and tools aimed at helping colleges and their leaders improve student success in four areas: learning, completion, post-graduation employment, and equitable outcomes for underrepresented students.