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Modesto Junior College in running for $1 million Aspen Prize
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The achievements of Modesto Junior College are undeniable after the school was named as one of the nation’s top 150 community colleges to be eligible for the biennial $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.


“This is an incredible recognition of our commitment to student access, success and equity leading to degree completion,” said President Jill Stearns. “We now have the opportunity to share the research-based practices and innovations being implemented at MJC to support students from their first point of contact with the college until they cross the stage at graduation.”


The Aspen Prize, awarded every two years, is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges, which recognizes institutions for exceptional student outcomes in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.


The top 150 community colleges named on Tuesday represent the diversity and richness of the community college sector. They are located in 35 states in urban, rural and suburban areas, serving as few as 300 students and as many as 60,000 students.


“There are exceptional community colleges across our country providing students with high-quality, affordable education that leads to good careers and strong economic opportunity,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Through this competition, we’re working to inspire community colleges and help them understand how to ensure that more students succeed.”


The Aspen Institute, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Kresge Foundation and the Lumina Foundation partnered to support the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which was recognized by President Barack Obama in 2012.


“It [Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence] is going to shine a spotlight on community colleges delivering truly exceptional results,” said Obama. “Places that often don’t get a lot of attention but make a huge difference in their students’ lives.”


This is the first round of three in the selection process for the Aspen Prize. To narrow down the pool of over 1,000 potential candidates to just 150 public two-year institutions, the Aspen Institute convened a Data Metrics Advisory Panel, which worked with the National Center for Education Management Systems to develop a model to distinguish colleges around the country that demonstrate the highest levels of performance in three key areas: student success, improvement in these areas over time, and equitable outcomes for students of all backgrounds.


“The bar for the Aspen Prize is intentionally set high in order to identify those institutions that have demonstrated exceptional levels of student success,” the website states.


In the second round, the Aspen Institute will invite the 150 eligible institutions to submit an application describing what they have done to improve student success on their campus. Only 10 finalists will progress from this round in fall 2016 to the third round, which will include two-day site visits to each of the finalist institutions to gather qualitative data.


The Aspen Institute is slated to announce one winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction in early 2017.