By Jocelyn Gutierrez
Pulse Staff Reporter
For the first time ever, Palo Alto College is among 150 institutions to be eligible to win the Aspen Prize along with a $1 million reward.
“I love our school and everything it has to offer. I know it might not be a big deal to many students, but seeing our college among 150 others eligible to win one million dollars is something that is really impressive and deserving,” said Annette Gomez, Business Administration major.
Every two years since its beginning in 2011, the Aspen Institute awards a $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. This award is given to a community college in recognition of its high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.
Past winners include Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota (2017); Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida (2015); co-winners Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, California, and Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, Washington (2013); Valencia College in Orlando, Florida (2011 inaugural Prize winner) and for the first time in its history, Palo Alto College, along with Northwest Vista College, San Antonio College and St. Philip’s College, is eligible to win the $1 million dollar prize.
Two years prior to the announcement of the winner, 1,000 colleges are assessed as part of a rigorous process that uses nationally available data on institutional performance, improvement and equity in student retention and completion to reduce the number of colleges eligible for the prize down to 150. Aspen then invites the eligible institutions to submit an application. A finalist selection committee reviews all submitted material, and 10 finalists are selected.
Finalist institutions are selected based on their student outcomes and additional qualitative and quantitative information provided in the application, including institutional data on completion, labor market outcomes, learning assessment and descriptions of how institutions have achieved and improved student outcomes.
Phone interviews with leadership teams from top prize applicants are also conducted to gather additional information.
In the final round, the finalists are reviewed to select the winner. A small team of experts in community college practice, research and leadership are sent by the Aspen Institute to visit each finalist institution for one and a half days.
With the help of NCHEMS, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, Aspen collects information on employment and learning outcomes and learning assessment from the community college finalists. After all data has been gathered, a prize jury goes over all the information, deliberates and selects the winner.
The Aspen Institute believes that improving community college student success is a vital national priority and one that should be championed. The Aspen Prize celebrates colleges that work by identifying excellence.
After meeting the qualities that the Aspen Institute required for eligibility, Palo Alto College, as well as Northwest Vista College, San Antonio College and St. Philip’s College, will move forward to round two of the selection process.
“This is exciting news for Palo Alto College. It is a testament to the quality of instruction and services and the determination of our students,” said President Mike Flores. “We are very proud of this recognition to be among the top 15 percent of U.S. community colleges.”
The top ten finalists for the 2019 Aspen Prize will be named in May 2018. The grand prize winner will be then chosen in Spring 2019.