Aspen Prize Selection Process

To award the Aspen Prize, the College Excellence Program engages in a rigorous two-year-long process that assesses student outcomes at over 1,000 U.S. community colleges, leading to the selection of 10 finalists and, ultimately, one winner. Throughout the process, Aspen and the higher education experts they engage analyze a range of quantitative data, evaluate detailed applications from colleges, and interview a wide range of stakeholders at colleges.
Round 1
From nearly 1,000 colleges to 150 eligible.
In collaboration with an expert Data/Metrics Advisory Panel and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Aspen uses a model that relies on nationally available data on institutional performance, improvement, and equity in student retention and completion to identify approximately 150 community colleges that are invited to apply for the Aspen Prize.

2021 Data/Metrics Advisory Panel
Thomas Brock, Community College Research Center
Sue Clery, ASA Research
Laurie Heacock, Achieving the Dream
Valerie Lundy-Wagner, California Community Colleges
Kent Phillippe, American Association of Community Colleges
Leticia Tomas Bustillos
Mamie Voight, Institute for Higher Education Policy
Christina Whitfield, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association
Round 2
From 150 eligible to 10 finalists.
A committee of higher education experts selects 10 finalist institutions, based on the student outcomes reflected in Round 1 data; additional data on completion, workforce outcomes, early momentum indicators, and learning assessments; and explanations of how institutions have achieved and improved outcomes provided in applications and in interviews with leaders at colleges in the top tier of applicants

2021 Finalist Selection Committee
Elaine Baker, Colorado Community College System (retired)
Michael Collins, Jobs for the Future
Darla Cooper, RP Group
Kimberly Green, Advance CTE
Maria Harper-Marinick, Aspen Institute, Maricopa Colleges (retired)
Marc Herzog, Connecticut Community College System (retired)
Robert Johnstone, National Center for Inquiry and Improvement
Amy Laitinen, New America
Shannon Looney, Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities
Paul Markham, SOVA Solutions
Susan Mayer, Achieving the Dream
John Nixon, Mt. San Antonio College (retired)
Gretchen Schmidt, American Association of Community Colleges
Michele Siqueiros, Campaign for College Opportunity
Nicole Smith, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce
Heather Wathington, Girard College
Round 3
From 10 finalists to 1 winner.
With a small team of experts in community college practice, research, and leadership, Aspen conducts two-day site visits—typically in person, but in 2020 virtual—to each finalist institution. Partnering with NCHEMS, Aspen also collects additional information on employment and earnings outcomes and learning assessment practices. A jury of prominent leaders in business, politics, policy, journalism, and other relevant fields reviews quantitative and qualitative analyses of each institution to select a winner, finalists with distinction, and notable improvers (Rising Stars).

2021 Site Visitors
Darla Cooper, RP Group
Martha Ellis, Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin
Maria Harper-Marinick, Aspen Institute, Maricopa Colleges (retired)
Rob Johnstone, National Center for Inquiry and Improvement
Mary Rittling, Aspen Institute, Davidson County Community College (retired)
Gretchen Schmidt, American Association of Community Colleges
The Aspen Prize is made possible by generous support from Ascendium Education Group, Joyce Foundation, and Siemens Foundation.
Contact us for more information.
Ben Barrett, Program Manager