The Aspen Institute on Thursday named Minnesota West Community & Technical College as one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America's community colleges.
The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds. The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit data and narratives as the next steps in an intensive data and practice review process, culminating in the announcement of the Prize winner in spring 2023.
Dr. Terry Gaalswyk, president of Minnesota West Community & Technical College, said, “The Aspen Community College Excellence program captures the genuine care and dedication of our college faculty, staff and administration. The recognition represents our college’s energies to help each student reach their academic and career goals; a culture built through years of student-driven focus.
"The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate campus-wide practices that significantly improve college student outcomes. 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.”
The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to elevate the sector, drive attention to colleges doing the best work, and discover and share highly effective student success and equity strategies. Since 2010, Aspen has chosen to focus intensively on community colleges because they are — as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated at the 2021 Aspen Prize ceremony — “a powerful engine of prosperity.”
But student outcomes vary enormously among community colleges, and improving those outcomes is essential to securing the nation’s economic future, strengthening communities, and ensuring that diverse populations experience economic mobility and prosperity. With these goals in mind, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural and suburban areas across 34 states, these colleges serve as few as 230 students and as many as 57,000. Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns — including Lake Area Technical Institute (South Dakota, 2017 Prize winner) and Walla Walla Community College (Washington, 2013) — to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including Miami Dade College (Florida, 2019) and San Antonio College (Texas, 2021).
In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Eligible colleges must show strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer and equity. Nationwide, 15 percent of community colleges (150 of the approximately 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide assessed for the Prize) have been invited to apply — the full list can be accessed on the Prize homepage.