The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program recently announced the 120 community colleges that are eligible to compete for its first $1-million prize to reward excellence at two-year institutions.
Nine Texas colleges made the cut.
The community colleges chosen represent the top 10 percent in the country, according to the Institute. President Obama announced the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence during the White House Summit on Community Colleges, in October. The purpose of the prize is to recognize community colleges with outstanding academic and work force outcomes, according to the official announcement. Here's the link.
The institute hopes the top colleges will serve as models and laboratories for identifying practices that can elevate community-college education nationwide, said Joshua Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program.
The Aspen Prize is financially supported by the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.
Here are the Texas Schools:
- Alvin Community College
- Trinity Valley Community College
- Lee College
- Blinn College
- Texas State Technical College-West Texas
- Texarkana College
- Southwest Texas Junior College
- Victoria College
- Wharton County Junior College
Inevitably, controversies have sprouted over methodology.
Below is more information from an article by David Moltz in Inside Higher Ed. But please read the entire piece.
The process has its critics, many of whom cite irregularity in data collection in determining differences between community colleges. Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, voiced some of his concerns during the question-and-answer period at the event. Though Schneider expressed misgivings about the use of IPEDS to measure completions -- given its shortcomings in tracking successful transfers in and out of community colleges, for example -- he was willing to concede that it is the best data source currently available by which to compare institutions. Still, he took issue with how the prize was judging institutions on their “learning outcomes” and “labor market outcomes.”
“I’m really curious, since I’ve been thinking about this for many, many years, [what] the measures [are] that you have for both of those other two categories,” said Schneider, former commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.
“The learning outcomes is a giant enchilada, if you will; I have no idea how you measure it. You have [the Community College Survey of Student Engagement], but that’s just process, that has nothing to do with actual learning. With the work outcomes, of course, you want to know if people are employed … but that’s a spotty process…. What are your data definitions? How are you verifying if what one college says we’ve done is the same as another college — because ultimately you are comparing different schools and the question is, are you really measuring on the same metrics?”
Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen College Excellence Program, told Inside Higher Ed after the event that he stood by the list of 120 community colleges as including those who have “achieved greater excellence on IPEDS measures than others.” In the next step of narrowing down the list of 120 institutions to 10, he said it was the goal of the prize to “bring sense and comparability to nonstandard data systems.” He admitted that there would be some level of subjectivity to the process in terms of determining the reliability and validity of the data.
“I welcome criticism of this list, if people would have specific ways to suggest improving it,” Wyner said. “In fact, I want that kind of conversation. I want people to question what it means to be excellent in community colleges. What I’m not interested in or don’t think we can continue to do is to say, ‘Well, because we haven’t done X, there’s no valid way to measure these institutions.’ For too long we’ve wallowed in the diversity of community colleges and how different they are and how the non-credit side and credit side compare and the regionalism, and we’ve recognized very clear differences between community colleges and throw up our hands and say, ‘They’re not even comparable, so don’t even try.’ I think that’s really damaging to say.”
Wyner also defended the list, noting that the prize is looking at community college success at an institutional level. In other words, those well-known community colleges that have benefited from efforts to improve select programs but have not “moved the needle” more broadly are not on this list.
“I would rather use imperfect, but I would argue rational, data that are campus-wide to identify the best than the processes we’ve engaged in in the past,” Wyner said.