October 12, 2017

Among the daunting collection of emails that accumulated while communications were down following Hurricane Irma, the president of Florida Keys Community College opened a message that demanded immediate attention — and greatly improved his post-storm outlook.

“While we were having issues with the storm, we got a letter from The Aspen Institute, a group based in Washington, D.C. that is looking at the work being done in community colleges across the nation,” FKCC President Jonathan Gueverra said on Tuesday. “They created the prestigious Aspen Prize for the best-performing community colleges in the country and their recent letter said Florida Keys Community College is among the top 150 community colleges in the nation that was invited to apply for the prize.”

The Aspen Prize is more than a plaque, Gueverra said.

“The winner also gets $1 million,” he said, emphasizing that the contest is only open to the 150 schools that are invited to apply for the honor that’s awarded every two years. 

“We were invited from among more than 1,000 possible applicants to compete among the top 150 community colleges,” he said, adding that the school in the coming weeks will be compiling the extensive application data to submit to The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program.

The institute will narrow down the applicant pool from 150 to 100 to 10 and then to the final recipient over the coming year, evaluating outcomes in four key areas: student learning, college completion rates, post-graduate employment and earnings and equitable outcomes for underrepresented students.

Former President Barack Obama in 2015 described The Aspen Prize as, “The Academy Awards for community colleges.”

The institute enjoys financial and cooperative support from organizations such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Siemens Foundation and the Arthur Vining David Foundations and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

“The choices colleges make matter to students and the world they will inhabit after college. Decades of evidence and experience demonstrate that similar groups of students at similar colleges achieve different outcomes, and those differences correlate to community college and university practice and leadership. While many institutions of higher learning are working hard to improve student success, most could do better,” wrote Aspen Institute Founder Josh Wyner. “The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership in ways that help institutions of higher education make the choices that matter most to improving student outcomes….”

For information about the Aspen Institute and its efforts, visit http://www.highered.aspenisntitute.org.