In its first step to identify the nation’s best community colleges and award $1 million in prize money, the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program has ranked USC Union as one of the nation’s 120 best community colleges, challenging it to compete for the prize funds (to be announced in Dec. 2011) by insisting on high standards for learning, college completion without delay, and serving as a training ground for jobs that pay competitive wages. The full list of eligible institutions can be found at www.AspenCCPrize.org.
Citing the urgent need to focus on the value and potential of community colleges, Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Executive Director Josh Wyner said, “We must set the bar much higher than we have in the past. To achieve excellent student outcomes, we need to highlight our country’s success stories and learn from them so that we can keep reaching higher. Recognizing community colleges like USC Union sends a message to others that aspire to excellence, while encouraging USC Union to apply for the nation’s top community college prize. As a country, now more than ever, we need all community colleges to graduate more students with the knowledge and degrees they need to be successful in the workforce.”
Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, attended the Aspen Institute’s announcement event on April 25. The Aspen Prize was announced at the White House Community College Summit hosted by President Obama and Dr. Biden in October. At that time, the President noted how critical community colleges are to the millions of youth and adult learners – who enroll in America’s nearly 1,200 community colleges every year.
Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator who continues to teach English at Northern Virginia Community College, noted that, “The country is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of community colleges in educating our way to a stronger America. I am inspired by all of today’s community college students — the workers who have returned to school to improve their job prospects, the mothers who juggle jobs and childcare while preparing for new careers, and those who work diligently while at community college, preparing to transfer to a four-year institution.”
USC Union and 119 other community colleges will be winnowed to eight-to-ten finalists in September based on how much students learn, how many complete their programs on time, and how well students do in the job market after graduating.
USC Union is now eligible to submit an application containing detailed data on these criteria. USC Union must demonstrate that it delivers exceptional student results, uses data to drive decisions, and uses that information to continually improve over time.
Speaking for the jury that will select winners and finalists, former Governor of Michigan John Engler — president of the Business Roundtable and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers — emphasized the tremendous importance of community colleges in preparing the high-tech workforce American companies need.
Aspen will conduct site visits to each of the ten finalists in the fall. Based on the evidence gathered, the Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner and two to three runners-up, to be announced in December.
USC Union is the only two-year school in South Carolina recognized in the preliminary round. Dr. Stephen Lowe, Interim Dean of the campus, stated this honor recognizes the achievements of the campus begun under former Dean Hugh Rowland and the ongoing efforts of the faculty, staff, and students of the university. The university embarked on infrastructure improvements and expansion including the acquisition of a building on Main Street and beautification of the campus under the auspices of the Union-Laurens Commission on Higher Education. Progress continues with the modernization of campus instructional technology and campus-wide wireless access. Three new faculty members have been hired as well as a new director and counselor in the Opportunity Scholars Program. Enrollment growth has broken records.
“None of this would have been possible without the dedication and hard work of our staff, faculty, and students,” Lowe said. “Hopefully, this acknowledgement will encourage people in our service area to think about starting their college careers at USCU.”
The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate campus-wide practices that significantly improve college student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, projects targeting a new generation of college leaders, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit www.AspenCCPrize.org.
The Aspen Institute’s mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.