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Aspen Institute Community College Excellence


In 2011, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program established the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence – a biannual $1 million award honoring institutions’ achievement in teaching and learning, completion, workforce success, and equity for students of color and low-income students.

Topics Challenges Approach Impacts


Since its inception in 2011, NCHEMS has provided data support for the award competition and assists Aspen by creating statistical models that identify institutions that have shown strong performance on key metrics of student success and equitable outcomes, and then assists Aspen and its review team to further narrow the candidate institutions by providing ongoing analytical expertise throughout the multi-round process. NCHEMS developed the original model and, in prior rounds, devised and implemented the competition’s reviews of institutional assessment strategies.


Each year there are some adjustments in the Aspen competition, usually relating to ways to incorporate new data. While the project has been consistently collaborative, NCHEMS consistently strives to ensure that the data and results are explainable to Aspen staff, the selection committee, and institutions. The biggest challenges sometimes arise from trying to ensure that institutions with complex but varied missions are treated fairly in the competition and that a diverse representation of institutions are selected to apply for the prize.


NCHEMS runs statistical analysis on data from IPEDS and the Census Bureau to make an initial selection of 150+ institutions, which are then invited to participate in a more rigorous review. NCHEMS continues to provide data support and counsel to Aspen and to the institutions in the collection and submission of those data.


NCHEMS’ involvement—both currently and in the assistance it provided as the competition was being developed—has ensured that the prize is legitimate and credible beyond simply the money involved. The two-year sector, selected applicants, finalists, and eventual winner all get a much-valued dose of attention each time the award is announced.