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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

College of Central Florida among 150 community colleges vying for $1 million prize

The Aspen Institute has recognized the College of Central Florida as one of the nation’s 150 institutions that are eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The College of Central Florida (CF), as well as the other 149 institutions selected for this honor, stood out among the 1,000-plus community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success.

College of Central Florida
The College of Central Florida has three locations, including its largest campus at 3001 SW College Road in Ocala

This is the sixth time that CF has made this prestigious list.

“Recognition by the Aspen Institute reflects the commitment by CF faculty and staff to our students and our belief in the power of education to transform lives and enrich our community,” stated Dr. Jim Henningsen, CF president. “We continue to focus on what is best for our students and are looking forward to providing the additional documentation to show that we are one of the best colleges in the nation.”

The 150 eligible colleges have been invited by the Aspen Institute to submit student success data and narratives about strategies to achieve better and more equitable student outcomes. This is the next step in an intensive review process that will culminate in the spring of 2025 when the Aspen Prize winner is announced.

The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 30 states, these colleges serve as few as 169 students and as many as 49,619.

“The Aspen Prize is rooted first and foremost in an assessment of whether colleges are walking the walk,” stated Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “As community colleges face enrollment variations, enroll students with pandemic-related learning loss, and graduate students into a rapidly changing labor market, it is easy to lose track of what matters most.”

Wyner added that the nation’s best community colleges are “continuing to focus on advancing the core mission: making sure as many students as possible graduate with credentials that lead to fulfilling careers and reflect the development of diverse talent that communities, states, and our nation need.”

Student outcomes can vary substantially among community colleges, and Aspen measures those variances using multiple data sources. Select colleges are then recognized for their outstanding achievement in six critical areas: teaching and learning; certificate and degree completion; transfer and bachelor’s attainment; workforce success; equitable access to the college; and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

“These 150 colleges have achieved high and improving levels of student success for all students, including those who are often failed by our institutions,” stated Wyner. “We’re excited to learn over the coming months how they achieved that success so we can share the most impressive practices with others in the field.”

In the first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based primarily on data that is publicly available. Colleges must show strong, improving, and equitable student outcomes in retention from the first to second year, credentials awarded, and completion and transfer rates. Across the nation, approximately 15% of community colleges have been invited to apply.

Here are the next steps that will be taken to determine the Aspen Prize winner:

  • In April 2024, the 25 semifinalists will be announced. They will be selected based on assessments of extensive data and strategy documents by the prize selection panel, a group of 16 experts in community colleges, higher education and workforce training, and interviews with institutional leadership teams.
  • In June 2024, the 10 finalists will be chosen by the prize selection panel.
  • In the fall of 2024, site visits will be held at each of the 10 finalists. During this time, Aspen and its partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data as well as insights about promising practices.
  • In January 2025, prize award decisions will be made by an independent prize jury.
  • In the spring of 2025, the 10 finalists will be celebrated in Washington D.C., and the Aspen Prize winner will be announced.

To learn more about the selection process, or to view a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions, visit the Aspen Institute’s website.

For more information about the College of Central Florida, visit the community college’s website.