Four-year universities have long dominated the higher education conversation, but now community colleges—critical to helping Americans gain skills needed in difficult economic times—are finally receiving recognition too. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program (a Burness client) recently released its 10 finalists for its first ever Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The winner and runners up will share a $1 million prize fund, but the prize is about more than money.

With six million students enrolled in community colleges every year, representing more than 40% of the college-going population in the United States, the need to encourage and reward excellence is clear. “Practically everyone can see the link between having a college degree and economic stability,” says Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the College Excellence Program. By highlighting colleges that excel in helping students learn, complete their programs, and find well-paying jobs, the prize will help all community colleges identify ways to better serve the millions who rely upon them.
Since the Prize was announced at the White House Community College Summit in October 2010, it has continued to build bipartisan support from leaders in the philanthropic, educational, and political worlds. Dr. Jill Biden, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and multiple funders (Lumina Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, JPMorgan Chase Foundation) came together with Aspen to congratulate the top 10% of community colleges and announce their eligibility to compete for the Aspen Prize. Governor Steven Daugaard (R) of South Dakota and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D) of California both congratulated colleges in their states that were named finalists. Earlier this month, White House officials recognized the 10 finalists as “Champions of Change.”
Burness has worked with the College Excellence Program since late 2010 to shine a spotlight on model community colleges, and to build appreciation among policymakers, educators, and the general public for the crucial role these institutions play in the United States.
For more information on the prize, see Inside Higher Ed’s story, “Eyes on the Aspen Prize.”