Community colleges in Estherville, Mason City and Sheldon have been notified they’re among 150 U.S. community colleges that can compete for what a former president has called the “Oscar” for achievement and student performance.
The Aspen Institute’s $1 million prize is handed out once every two years to just one of the country’s more than 1000 community college. Robert Leifeld, Iowa Lakes Community College vice president for administration, says the Aspen Institute evaluated publicly available data to come up with its list of 150 schools.
“Student retention, the completion, transfer and equitable rates as far as those of low income and students of color — those are the key areas they look at when they did the initial round of selecting the institutions,” he says.
North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City and Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon are the other two Iowa colleges on the list. Leifield says the next step for all three institutions is to fill out an official application. It’s due in early December and the Aspen Institute will then select 10 finalists.
“Of the 10 finalists, then there’s an on-site visit and that will be about in the fall of 2022,” he says. “Then they’ll look at more information and my understanding that information would include employment and earnings data and insight about promising practices that the institution is working on, pursuing or implemented.”
The next Aspen Institute Prize for Community College Excellence will be awarded in early 2023. Three community colleges in Florida and one in California have been recognized since the award was established. Leifeld says it’s an acknowledgement that a community college is accomplishing its mission. “That they’re serving students, they’re helping students and the students are reaching their goals,” he says.
The Aspen Institute is an international non-profit that hosts an annual Ideas Festival that draws well-known participants like former presidents, Supreme Court justices and leaders from other countries.
(Reporting by Ed Funston, KILR, Estherville)