Unlocking Opportunity: FAQs

When is the application due?
Applications are due on Thursday, September 15 by 11:59pm ET.
When will my college hear back about the status of our application?
Colleges will hear back about the status of their application between late September and mid-October. All colleges that apply will receive a response from our team. We appreciate your patience as we review your application and welcome you to follow up with us directly if you have not heard back via email by October 24.
What are the next steps after we apply?
Each application will be reviewed by at least two individuals from Aspen and CCRC. Reviewers will score each application using a common rubric, which takes into consideration institutional priorities and context. The Aspen and CCRC teams will conduct phone interviews with institutional leadership from the top applicants in late September and early October. These follow-up calls allow our team to learn more about goals and challenges at the college, address any questions submitted by reviewers, and answer applicants’ questions about the project.
What are the eligibility criteria?
1. The president and senior leaders are willing and prepared to:
  • Prioritize substantial reforms aligned with Unlocking Opportunities’ central goal: ensuring that many more students, including students of color and those from lower-income backgrounds, enter and complete a program of study that leads directly to jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage or to efficient and effective completion of a bachelor’s degree.
  • Plan and enact reforms that include equity goals and strategies that address systems and processes that result in inequitable post-college outcomes.
  • Commit to participating in required sessions, network support, and field leadership.
  • 2. Colleges have established clear programs of study and advising systems that can reasonably serve as a baseline from which the college can advance the above-stated goal during the project’s three-year core period.
  • 3. Colleges have the financial resources and human capital needed to undertake reforms, engage teams in the sessions, and submit required data and other information. 
What if my college is engaged in another major reform strategy or network?
We ask that colleges participate only if the goals of Unlocking Opportunity are consistent with major reforms underway, including those supported by other initiatives. We expect that many colleges considered for this project will also be members of other reform networks, including Achieving the Dream and state or national guided pathways collaboratives. In such cases, we would encourage colleges to consider the obligations of this project and other reform network commitments to ensure that the requirements listed in the application are manageable. During the interview stage, Aspen will inquire about this and will welcome a conversation as to how multiple reform efforts might be coordinated. 
Is there any cost to participate?
There is no fee for colleges to participate in this Network. Institutions will be responsible for paying for airfare for teams to attend three in-person convenings between 2023 – 2025 (health conditions permitting). The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program will cover accommodations and meals for program teams during these events.
Does my college receive a grant or award money if we are accepted to participate?
No, there will be no direct grants or award money for accepted colleges or their team members. As part of this Network, colleges will receive the following support from Aspen and CCRC:
  • Learning sessions rooted in extensive research into how high-performing colleges have achieved reforms that result in excellent and equitable student outcomes.
  • Practical tools and resources to evaluate practice and advance reforms, including custom data reports based on institutional- and regional-level labor market information, custom program-enrollment dashboards, and the results of self- assessment tools.
  • Strategic planning and coaching support from experienced higher education experts, including former leading community college presidents.
  • A community of institutions committed to engaging, including through a presidents’ network, annual convenings, and peer consultancies.
What is the role of the “project lead” mentioned in the application? Who should we select from our college?
The project lead will be the primary liaison between Aspen, CCRC, and your institution. Some positions that may take on this role at your institution could include: provost/chief academic officer, guided pathways lead, and director of institutional planning and engagement.

This individual must:
  • have enough seniority and authority to convene stakeholders across campus,
  • have access to the president and senior leadership team, and
  • be willing to dedicate substantial time to this Network.
What is the role of the president in this project? Do they need to attend sessions or just be in the loop about progress?
The college president must actively participate in this project. Acceptance to this network requires a formal commitment from the college president to attend in person convenings, virtual strategy and progress update workshops, and a virtual presidents’ community that meets quarterly. In addition, the president will be expected to play a central role in:
  • Setting the project’s top-line goal based on current program enrollment patterns and program outcomes
  • Promoting a vision and data-informed goals for institutional transformation
  • Owning a vision for the program portfolio and an aligned advising system to center high-value pathways
  • Developing and strengthening key partnerships with universities and employers 
I have questions that are not answered here. Who do I contact?
For addition questions about Unlocking Opportunity not addressed here, please contact Tess Henthorne, Senior Program Manager.
This project is made possible by support from Arnold Ventures, Ascendium, and ECMC. Aspen and CCRC are in ongoing conversations to expand resources for this ambitious project.
Contact us for more information.
Tess Henthorne, Senior Program Manager