case study

Raising the Bar for Community Colleges

A young woman looking at the camera wearing a cap in gown standing at her graduation.

The Challenge

The nation’s community colleges are underrecognized, underappreciated, and undervalued—but many are also underperforming. Seven million Americans—nearly half of all people who go to college—attend community college, particularly low-income, Hispanic and African American students who require an affordable option and are disproportionately represented in these schools. The nation needs community colleges to be the best they can be—with evidence that students are learning, completing school and earning degrees, and landing good-paying jobs for which they were trained.

Our Approach

Since 2011, Burness has provided communications support for the Aspen College Excellence Program and the announcement of the biennial Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The prize spotlights colleges that demonstrate dramatically improved student outcomes, and, in the process, serve as models for the 1,200 community colleges in this country. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the New College Leadership Project and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses.

Our work includes implementing consistent messaging throughout all media materials and outreach, including national and local press releases, videos, blogs and other social media outreach. Op-eds and media interviews with Executive Director Josh Wyner have drawn broad attention to Aspen’s efforts to further the national understanding of how community colleges can increase student success. These efforts have also helped brand the prize as the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges. In addition to the promotion of the prize announcement, Burness has engaged in the promotion of Crisis and Opportunity: Aligning the Community College Presidency with Student Success, a report (in partnership with Achieving the Dream) assessing the looming leadership crisis in the community college presidency and recommending steps needed to identify, select and develop a new generation of leaders to help improve success for students in an era of rapid change.

Results and Impact

Burness has engaged in extensive broadcast, print and online media outreach spotlighting key data and the highly successful community colleges and their innovative approaches to educate and train students.

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