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DCCCD Colleges Have Eyes on the Aspen Prize

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​Contact: Ann Hatch

For immediate release — April 10, 2014

(DALLAS) — Every community college in the nation has an eye on the prize — the Aspen Prize — including three colleges in the Dallas County Community College District system: Cedar Valley, Mountain View and North Lake.
It’s a contest they can’t enter themselves. They can’t ask to be considered. But the prize is worth $1 million — and the respect of every other community college in the country.

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, awarded by the Aspen Institute, recognizes institutions for exceptional student outcomes in four key areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and support for minority and low-income students. College completion is a national priority, from the White House to every two-year college in the country.

The Aspen Institute, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Lumina Foundation have partnered to support the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which is given once every two years. The first Aspen Prize was awarded in 2011 to Valencia College in Florida.

Cedar Valley, Mountain View and North Lake have found themselves contenders to win the 2015 Aspen Prize as one of the nation’s top 150 community colleges.

Notified recently that they were selected to move on to round two in the final prize selection process, the three college presidents were excited to learn that their institutions would be considered for the Aspen Prize. Among the 150 community colleges identified, 17 are from Texas and three are DCCCD colleges.

“It was an honor for Cedar Valley to be considered for the Aspen Award, based on our outstanding student success,” said Dr. Jennifer Wimbish, president. “This recognition is consistent with our mission and vision of being a premier college, transforming lives, because it is about demonstrated evidence of outstanding student success and achievement.”

Wimbish added, “When our college established benchmarks for demonstrating success, we selected consideration for the Aspen Award as one way to demonstrate that we were advancing toward our vision — our future. We never dreamed that one year after establishing this goal that we would reach it: being considered for this award. This (achievement) shows what a team of people — including students, faculty, staff and community members — can do when they work together.”

Christa Slejko, North Lake’s interim president, said, “Colleges like North Lake are selected by a panel of experts who review publicly available data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System — what we call IPEDS — and the U.S. Census Bureau.”

Slejko added, “It is a tremendous honor to be selected as eligible. Achieving the metrics and success rates that make the college eligible put us in the company of high-performing two-year schools across the country. Being eligible for the Aspen Award tells us that we are working on the right things — the important things — for our students, our area employers and our community … that we are making progress. We are proud to be associated with the Aspen Institute, and this inspires us to work even harder.”

Mountain View College’s acting administrator in charge, Sharon Davis, echoed the sentiments of her colleagues. “We are proud of the fact that we are considered one of the top 150 community colleges, based on IPEDS data … . As an Hispanic Serving Institution (or HSI), our goal is to ensure that our students have access, make progress and successfully complete their education goals. With that in mind, we provide the students with knowledge, innovative faculty, a rich student life program, a degree pathway and employment opportunities.

“Programs that have contributed to our success include our writing center, STEM Success Initiative, peer tutors, First Year Experience Center and our instructional support labs. We are both honored and humbled by this recognition,” said Davis.

Statistical measures of success and completion are key elements in IPEDS data used by the finalist selection committee. For example: The Hispanic population at Cedar Valley College increased by 9.2 percent over the last year, and its male population also grew by 5.3 percent during that same period. CVC’s completion-of-certificates rate for the last year increased by 27 percent, and graduation rates increased by 11 percent. “As a community partner, we also showed success responding to workforce needs by providing employers with individuals who are prepared and successful in the workplace,” added Wimbish.

What does a community college do with a $1 million Aspen Prize?

“Not only would the potential funding of $1 million assist with student-focused programming, but also it would allow us to share our students’ stories with others as well as lessons we have learned,” explained Wimbish. “Advancing to the next round would open other doors for our district, college and students.”

What happens next? Essentially, in round two, 10 finalists are chosen. In mid-March, the three colleges in DCCCD’s system submitted questionnaires that requested additional information from the Aspen Institute. Those data reports are reviewed by the finalist selection committee. Prior to the selection of the 10 finalists, Aspen conducts interviews with the leadership teams of approximately half of the institutions that submitted applications. Each of the 10 colleges selected as finalists again is reviewed, based on statistical information; visited; and then analyzed. A prize jury comprising prominent former elected officials, national business and civic leaders, and former community college leaders reviews the data to select the prizewinner plus several finalists with distinction.

For more information about the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, visit

Questions? Contact Ann Hatch in the DCCCD office of public and governmental affairs by phone at (214) 378-1819 or by email at

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