WCC Named One of 150 U.S. Community Colleges Eligible for 2023 Aspen Prize

WCC Named One of 150 U.S. Community Colleges Eligible for 2023 Aspen Prize

For the second time in two years, Wayne Community College has been invited to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The Aspen Institute provides the prize, which is considered by America’s community colleges to be the signature recognition of high achievement and performance.

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 will 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.

“It is a tremendous honor for Wayne Community College to be selected to compete for the 2023 Aspen Prize. This prestigious recognition is a result of the hard work and dedication of the faculty and staff at the college focused on student success,” said Interim WCC President Patty Pfeiffer. “Wayne Community College is nationally recognized as a leader in student success with retention and completion rates exceeding the national averages.”

“The Aspen prize is given every two years and Wayne Community College was also selected as a top 150 community college in 2019. Being selected as a finalist once again is further proof that what we do at Wayne Community College matters not only for our students, but also our community. I could not be more proud of the college, our exceptional faculty, staff, and students,” Pfeiffer said.

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.

The 150 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.

WCC is one of six North Carolina community colleges named to the list. The other institutions are Catawba Valley Community College which serves Alexander and Catawba counties, College of the Albemarle which serves seven counties in the Albemarle region, Edgecombe Community College which serves Edgecombe County, Montgomery Community College which serves Montgomery County, and Southwestern Community College which serves Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

The full list of the top 150 eligible institutions can be found at www.highered.aspeninstitute.org/aspen-prize.

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.”

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, Aspen Institute officials said in announcing the finalists. 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.

“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program.

“Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there,” Wyner said. “They are committed to ensuring that all students, including students of color and those from low-income backgrounds, graduate with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university. That same commitment that stands at the center of the Aspen Prize: to advance the goals of social mobility and equitable talent development.”

For the first round for the 2023 Aspen Prize, eligibility was based on publicly available data. Eligible colleges showed 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 next steps in the process include:

  • Selection of the top 10 finalists by a panel of experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, to be announced in spring/summer 2022;
  • Fall 2022 site visits to each of the 10 finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices;
  • Award decisions by a jury in the first quarter of early 2023; and
  • Announcement of the Aspen Prize in late spring 2023.

Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns, such as 2017 winner Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota and 2013 winner Walla Walla Community College in Washington, to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including 2019 winner Miami Dade College in Florida and 2021 winner San Antonio College in Texas.

The four other previous winners are Indian River State College in Florida (2019), Santa Fe College in Florida (2015), Santa Barbara City College in California (2013), and Valencia College in Florida (2011).  

The Aspen Prize is funded by Ascendium and the Joyce Foundation.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit www.highered.aspeninstitute.org and www.linkedin.com/showcase/aspenhighered, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter. The Aspen Prize hashtag is #AspenPrize.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.