‘What Excellent Community Colleges Do’

In What Excellent Community Colleges Do, Josh Wyner describes what he’s learned running the Aspen Institute’s awards for community college excellence.

The best colleges have improved graduation rates, learning, workforce success and equity, even as they struggle with inadequate funding, Wyner writes.

Valencia College in Florida, an Aspen winner, eliminated late registration — few latecomers will pass the class — but provided late-start sections of popular classes.

The best colleges don’t blame students for not knowing the “unwritten rules of how to navigate higher education,” adds Matt Reed, the Community College Dean.  

Colleges develop “guided pathways, targeted advising, mandatory counseling, student success courses” and the like to make clear the rules of the game, writes Reed. 

“Wyner is quite good on outlining some of the policy-based dilemmas that community colleges face,” he writes. “Most of the colleges he examines face many of the same fiscal and policy constraints as everyone else, but they’ve managed to find ways to move forward anyway.”

Aspen lists 150 top colleges

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence has announced 150 colleges contending for the $1 million prize. The eligible institutions hail from 37 states. Texas, Florida, Kansas and Mississippi are especially well represented.

Colleges are judged on students’ persistence, completion and transfer rates, consistent improvement in outcomes over time and equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Ten finalists will be announced in the fall and the winner will be named in early 2015.

Aspen’s Josh Wyner discusses community college excellence.

AACC names 25 finalists for excellence awards

Twenty-five community colleges have been named finalists for the Awards of Excellence sponsored by the American Association of Community Colleges. Awards will be given in five categories: Emerging Leadership, Student Success, Exemplary CEO or Board, Advancing Diversity and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership.

The finalists and winners will be honored April 23 during the closing brunch of the 2013 AACC Convention in San Francisco.

Wine saves Walla Walla

By building the wine industry, Walla Walla Community College‘s Enology and Viticulture program may have saved a community, according to Learning Matters. Eighty percent of program graduates find jobs in the wine industry.

The college is one of 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for community college excellence.

Aspen names 2013 prize finalists

The Aspen Institute has named 10 finalists for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The advisory committee looked for community and technical colleges that have improved completion rates and labor-market and learning outcomes, especially for low-income and minority students. Finalists are:

Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX

Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL

College of the Ouachitas, Malvern, AR

Kingsborough Community College – CUNY, Brooklyn, NY

Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD

Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA

Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL

Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Cumberland, KY

Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA

West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY

The winner will be announced in March 2013. This could be the year for a technical college to win the prize.


Aspen names 120 top community colleges

The Aspen Institute has named 120 community colleges in 31 states that are in the running for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The finalists were evaluated  on the basis of student persistence, completion and transfer rates, consistent improvement in outcomes over time and equity in outcomes for students of all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Valencia College in Florida won the 2012 prize.

The excellence prize goes to . . .

Valencia College in Orlando, Florida has been named the first winner of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The college will collect $600,000.

Valencia’s Start Right program has raised student success rates by providing early advising and orientation and redesigning introductory courses.  “All the failure occurs at the front door,” says Sandy Shugart, the president since 2000.

. . .  because data showed that students who start classes late are the least likely to complete them, nobody could add a course that had already met, even once. But the school didn’t want to slow anyone’s progression. So for the classes first-time students typically take, Valencia created “flex start” sections a month into the semester for students enrolling late.

. . . Two-fifths of Valencia students—including all those with the greatest developmental needs—now take a course called Student Success, where they create a personalized education plan and learn organizational skills. ow.

As a result, more remedial students are passing and moving on to college-level classes.

“Finalists with distinction” are: Walla Walla Community College (Washington),  West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, Kentucky),  Lake Area Technical Institute (Watertown, SD) and Miami Dade College (Florida).  Each will receive $100,000.

Go here to view the webcast of the event in Washington, D.C.

Community colleges should be included in the discussion about excellence in higher education, writes Kevin Carey.

Aspen picks the ‘best,’ annoys the rest

The 120 “best” community colleges will compete for  the $1 million Aspen Prize for community college excellence. The contest roll-out Monday was attended by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other administration officials.

But the top college list has raised hackles, reports Inside Higher Ed. “The selection process unfairly attempts to rank and compare community colleges using data systems that are inadequate to the task,” critics say.

Aspen used the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the primary federal database for colleges and universities, to assess graduation rates, student persistence, improvement and “performance with minority and low-income students.” IPEDS does not track transfers, so students who move on to a four-year institution before earning an associate degree show up as drop-outs.

To produce a top-10 list of colleges by September, the committee will analyze “completion outcomes,” “labor market outcomes” and “learning outcomes.”

“The learning outcomes is a giant enchilada, if you will; I have no idea how you measure it,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, in the question-and-answer period. The Community College Survey of Student Engagement is “just process, that has nothing to do with actual learning,” said Schneider, aid Schneider, a former commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Measuring “labor market outcomes” also is problematic, he said.

“With the work outcomes, of course, you want to know if people are employed … but that’s a spotty process…. What are your data definitions? How are you verifying if what one college says we’ve done is the same as another college — because ultimately you are comparing different schools and the question is, are you really measuring on the same metrics?”

Jane Oates, assistant secretary for employment and training administration at the U.S. Department of Labor, said community colleges can submit employer surveys and coursework portfolios.

Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen College Excellence Program, told Inside Higher Ed the prize will try to “bring sense and comparability to nonstandard data systems.”

“I want people to question what it means to be excellent in community colleges. What I’m not interested in or don’t think we can continue to do is to say, ‘Well, because we haven’t done X, there’s no valid way to measure these institutions.’ For too long we’ve wallowed in the diversity of community colleges and how different they are and how the non-credit side and credit side compare and the regionalism, and we’ve recognized very clear differences between community colleges and throw up our hands and say, ‘They’re not even comparable, so don’t even try.’ I think that’s really damaging to say.”

It’s OK to recognize excellence, but not to rank colleges , several community college leaders told Inside Higher Ed.

Washington Monthly’s list of the best 50 community colleges also was controversial.


$1 million and prestige

The $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence  is “philanthropic money wisely spent,”writes Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey.

College leaders and educators have to want to be different. The best way to do that is to appeal to what matters to them: status and prestige. Prestige in the four-year sector is based on wealth, fame, and exclusivity. Not having any of those things, prestige in the two-year sector basically doesn’t exist. That’s what a Prize for Excellence can change, creating student-centered terms of excellence to which institutions can aspire.

While the Obama administration isn’t offering more federal money to community colleges, the White House summit, opened by the president, “will help community colleges emerge from their perpetual status as under-resourced, under-researched, and under-recognized,” Carey writes.

Aspen offers $1 million prize

A $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was announced at the Community College Summit.  The prize is a project of the Aspen Institute, the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the JP Morgan Chase Foundation.