President's Blog

Aspen Prize celebrates societal impact of community colleges

Community colleges are essential to American higher education. Their ability to provide wide access is unmatched by any other type of institution. They are the gateway to higher education for millions who would otherwise be left out. And yet their work is often and sadly underappreciated. That’s why I applaud the Aspen Institute‘s efforts to celebrate community college excellence and shed light on their extraordinary work.

At George Mason University we know this well. Without our partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), we wouldn’t have become the largest and most diverse university in the state and we wouldn’t be producing the extraordinary completion and career outcomes across ethnic and income groups we are recognized for. Without them we could simply not deliver on our mission of access to excellence,

When I was asked to co-chair, with Northrop Grumman CEO Kathy Warden, the jury for this year’s Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, I didn’t hesitate. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and the award ceremony in Washington, D.C. this past Tuesday (the video above is queued up to my remarks at the event). Northrop Grumman, by the way, happens to be one of those companies that gets the value of community colleges. It is in fact the main supporter of our ADVANCE partnership with NOVA, a new program that provides seamless transfer, about 100 curricular pathways, joint admissions, and coordinated financial aid, advising and other services. ADVANCE enables NOVA students to save money and stay on a clearly defined pathway to earning a four-year degree.

The Aspen Prize, awarded every two years, is the nation’s top recognition of high achievement and performance in community colleges in student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings after graduation, and the access and success of students of color and low-income students. President Obama appropriately referred to the award as the Oscars of community colleges.

Ten finalists, competing for a $1 million prize, are chosen from more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide after extensive research conducted by the Aspen Institute. The Aspen Prize is also a celebration of the outcomes for employers who value and depend on talent from community colleges to sustain and bolster their workforce—community colleges enroll about 40 percent of all U.S. undergraduates.

Throughout the jury deliberations and Tuesday’s ceremony, I was delighted to learn more about the innovative work of the institutions leading the way and the personal lives they are helping to transform. I invite you to learn about them.

Co-winners of the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence: Indian River State College and Miami Dade College, both from Florida.

Other finalists: Broward College in Florida, Kingsborough Community College in New York, Mitchell Technical Institute in South Dakota, Pasadena City College in California, and San Jacinto College in Texas.

 Rising Star winners: Odessa College in Texas, Pierce College Fort Steilacoom in Washington, and Palo Alto College in Texas.