Aspen Prize Selection Process

To award the Aspen Prize, the College Excellence Program engages in a rigorous two-year-long process, beginning with an assessment of student outcomes at over 1,000 U.S. community colleges and inviting 150 to apply for Prize consideration. A group of semifinalists are selected from this applicant pool; from those 10 finalists are chosen and a jury determines the 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.

2025 Data/Metrics Advisory Panel
Kathy Booth, WestEd
Darla Cooper, The Research and Planning Group for California Community Colleges
Sue Clery, ASA Research
Daryl Davis, Valencia College
Kim Dancy, Institute for Higher Education Policy
Laurie Heacock, Achieving the Dream
Kent Phillippe, American Association of Community Colleges
Elizabeth Pisacreta, Ithaka S+R
Mikyung Ryu, National Student Clearinghouse
Tatiana Velasco-Rodriguez, Community College Research Center
Christina Whitfield, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association
Round 2: From 150 eligible to 20 semifinalists, then 10 finalists.
The Aspen Prize Selection Committee, a group of 18 higher education experts, selects 20 semifinalist institutions based on:
  • The student outcomes reflected in Round 1 data
  • Additional data on completion, workforce outcomes, early momentum indicators, and transfer to four-year universities
  • 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
After announcing the semifinalists, the committee meets to discuss and select 10 finalist institutions, based on additional close review of the information from Round 2 as well as reflections shared from interviews with colleges’ senior teams.
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 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).
The Aspen Prize is made possible by generous support from Ascendium, JPMorgan Chase, the Joyce Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation.
Contact us for more information.
Rebecca Lavinson, Program Manager