Selection Process

To award the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the College Excellence Program engages in a rigorous two-year-long process that assesses student outcomes at over 1,000 community colleges in the United States, leading to the selection of ten finalists and, ultimately, one winner. Institutions are assessed for exceptional student outcomes in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion (including of a bachelor’s degree after transfer), employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. Throughout the process, Aspen looks extensively at data, engages community college leaders, and solicits guidance from experts in higher education. Below is a detailed explanation of the selection process.
Round 1
From nearly 1,000 community colleges to 150 eligible.
With the guidance of an expert Data/Metrics Advisory Panel and working with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS), Aspen uses nationally available data on institutional performance, improvement, and equity in student retention and completion to determine eligibility to the Aspen Prize. From the nearly 1,000 public community colleges in the nation, 150 community colleges are identified as eligible for the Aspen Prize. 

To learn more about the Round 1 methodology, click here
Round 2
From 150 eligible to 10 finalists.
Aspen invites each eligible institution to submit an application to the Aspen Prize. A selection committee of higher education experts reviews submitted materials and selects 10 finalist institutions. Finalist institutions are selected based on their student outcomes, reflected in Round 1 data, and additional qualitative and quantitative information provided in the application, including institutional data on completion, labor market outcomes, and learning assessment, as well as descriptions of how institutions have achieved and improved student outcomes. The Prize selection committee gathers additional information from phone interviews with the leadership teams of top Prize applicants.
Round 3
From 10 finalists to 1 winner.
With a small team of experts in community college practice, research, and/or leadership, Aspen conducts 1.5-day site visits to each finalist institution. Partnering with NCHEMS, Aspen also collects additional information on employment and earnings outcomes and learning assessment practices at finalist institutions. A prominent Prize Jury reviews quantitative and qualitative analyses of each institution to select a winner(s), finalist(s) with distinction, and rising star(s).