Chipola College President Sarah Clemmons knows the ultimate victory is a bit of a long shot, having to compete with 149 other schools in the nation to win a $1 million Aspen Prize for the year 2021, but at the same time she’s excited and proud to have made that cut. The list of 150 eligible was determined by comparing key numbers posted by almost 1,000 community colleges across the nation. The qualifying schools were recently named by the Aspen Institute.
Chipola has made the 150-mark cut for all five cycles of the Aspen program, which was established in 2010, with the Prize bestowed every two years since the first one was awarded in 2011.
The school was nominated for the Aspen by the program itself after a review of several factors, including student success, retention and job placement rates.
Chipola has never made the top 10, but Clemmons is hoping that will change as the two-year process for determining the winner progresses to the point of making that final cut. There are also possibilities of being named one of the two or three “finalists-with-distinction” that also have an opportunity to receive a smaller financial award.
The Aspen usually wind up going to much bigger schools, with a student population hat dwarf’s Chipola’s population of just over 2,000 in rural North Florida.
The prize for 2019 went to a pair of co-winners in Florida, Indian River State College, with a student population of more than 17,500, and Miami-Dade College with a population of more than 66,000.
Whatever the final outcome, Clemmons said being in the top 150 is a point of distinction she celebrates because it demonstrates, by very objective measures, that Chipola is doing an admirable job in educating students and preparing them for bright futures.
Clemmons said that, if Chipola were to win, she would likely put some of the money toward providing more professional development opportunities for faculty. Right now, she says, because of budgetary constraints, the school must choose very carefully which conferences and other trips can be financed b the school for its faculty. Clemmons said she’d like to put more money toward those so that her faculty members can grow and learn even more with access to those events providing cutting-edge information, and in turn give their students more.
For now, the way she sees it, she, her faculty and staff, her students and their parents can take some real pride in making the 150-cut every cycle as evidence that it’s a school doing something right. And she’ll keep striving for that top-10 cut and the ultimate prize.
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence is described by the Aspen Institute as “the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges.”
Chipola was one of 13 schools in Florida College System nominated for the award. The Florida list includes: Broward, Chipola, Central Florida, Daytona State, Eastern Florida State, Florida State College at Jacksonville, Gulf Coast State, North Florida Community College, Palm Beach State, St. Johns River, Seminole, South Florida State and Tallahassee Community College, according to a press release announcing the top 150.
“Based on strong and improving in student outcomes-including in learning, completion rates, employment rates and earnings, and equity-15 percent of community colleges nationwide have been invited to apply for the Aspen Prize,” the release stated.
“Community colleges play a vital role in developing talent and enabling social mobility across the country, and it’s critical for them to get better at what they do,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “We’re pleased to see evidence that these institutions are improving, that more are delivering on their promise. We’re also pleased to play a role in honoring outstanding community colleges and sharing what works to ensure great outcomes for students-through graduation and beyond.”
“The top ten finalists for the 2021 Aspen Prize will be named in May 2020,” the release continued. “The Aspen Institute will then conduct site visits to each of the finalists and collect additional quantitative data, including employment and earnings data. A distinguished jury will make award decisions in spring 2021.”
Previous winners of the Aspen Prize are: Miami Dade College (FL) and Indian River State (FL), tied in 2019; Lake Area Technical College (SD), 2017; Santa Fe College (FL), 2015; Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA), tied in 2013; and Valencia College (FL), 2011.
The Aspen Prize is funded by ECMC Foundation, Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, and Siemens 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,” the release states. ”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.”