TCC among community colleges eligible for Aspen Prize

Jim Murdaugh

Special to the Outlook

The Aspen Institute named Tallahassee Community 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 two-year colleges.

The institutions 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.

“Being named among the top 150 two-year colleges in the nation is a testament to the commitment and hard work of everyone here at the College,” said TCC President Jim Murdaugh, Ph.D. “Our team is eager to compete. When you look at our model, our business processes, our culture, we are leading the way in our field. When you look at our data around fall-to-fall persistence, four-year completion rates, and success rates in gateway math and English courses, and the narrowing of equity gaps with our Black and Hispanic students, the outcomes are impressive. Everyone and everything we do here at TCC is there to help our students succeed and that really shows in our results.”

TCC has competed for the prize for the last two cycles and was named a finalist for the prize in 2021 and a semifinalist in 2023.

The Aspen Institute researches highly effective student success strategies and utilizes the Aspen Prize to spotlight exemplary community colleges in order to drive attention to colleges achieving post-graduate success for all students. 

The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit student success data and narratives about strategies to achieve better and more equitable student outcomes as the next step in an intensive review process that culminates in the naming of the Aspen Prize winner in spring 2025.

“The Aspen Prize is rooted first and foremost in an assessment of whether colleges are walking the walk,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “As community colleges face enrollment variations, enroll students with pandemic-related learning loss, and graduate students into a rapidly changing labor market, it is easy to lose track of what matters most. The best community colleges are continuing to focus on advancing the core mission: making sure as many students as possible graduate with credentials that lead to fulfilling careers and reflect the development of diverse talent that communities, states, and our nation need.”

While community colleges are an essential contributor to our nation’s success, student outcomes vary substantially among institutions. Aspen measures those variances using multiple data sources and honors colleges with outstanding achievement in six critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, equitable access to the college, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

“These 150 colleges have achieved high and improving levels of student success for all students, including those who are often failed by our institutions,” Wyner said. “We’re excited to learn over the coming months how they achieved that success so we can share the most impressive practices with others in the field.”

In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Colleges must show strong, improving, and equitable student outcomes in first-to-second-year retention, credentials awarded, and completion and transfer rates. Nationwide, about 15 percent of community colleges have been invited to apply. 

The next steps in the process include:

April 2024: Announcement of 25 semifinalists, selected based on assessments of extensive data and strategy documents by the Prize selection panel, a group of 16 experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, and interviews with institutional leadership teams.

June 2024: Announcement of 10 finalists, selected by the Prize selection panel.

Fall 2024:  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.

January 2025: Prize award decisions made by a distinguished, independent Prize jury at full-day meeting.

Spring 2025: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington, D.C.

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