The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program on Monday ranked Allan Hancock College as one of the five best community colleges in California and one of the nation’s top 120 community colleges.

The winners were selected from nearly 1,200 community colleges using publicly available data on student outcomes “that demonstrated the highest levels of performance on three key metrics:  student outcomes; changes over time; and equity in student achievement,” according to the Aspen Institute award information.  This honor positions Allan Hancock College and the other 119 institutions to compete for the $1 million in Aspen Institute prize funds.

Citing the urgent need to focus on the value and potential of community colleges, College Excellence Program Executive Director Josh Wyner said, “We must set the bar much higher than we have in the past. To achieve excellent student outcomes, we need to highlight our country’s success stories and learn from them so that we can keep reaching higher. Recognizing community colleges like Allan Hancock College sends a message to others that aspire to excellence, while encouraging Allan Hancock College to apply for the nation’s top community college prize.  As a country, now more than ever, we need all community colleges to graduate more students with the knowledge and degrees they need to be successful in the workforce.”

Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, attended the Aspen Institute’s announcement event on April 25.  The Aspen Prize was announced at the White House Community College Summit hosted by President Obama and Dr. Biden in October 2010.  At that time, the President noted how critical community colleges are to the millions of youth and adult learners who enroll in America’s nearly 1,200 community colleges every year.

Dr. Biden, a lifelong educator who continues to teach English at Northern Virginia Community College, noted that “The country is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of community colleges in educating our way to a stronger America.  I am inspired by all of today’s community college students—the workers who have returned to school to improve their job prospects, the mothers who juggle jobs and childcare while preparing for new careers, and those who work diligently while at community college, preparing to transfer to a four-year institution.”

Allan Hancock College Superintendent/President José Ortiz said, “We work every day, in every classroom and laboratory, to ensure that we are providing our students with the tools they need to be successful.  We are here at whatever stage in their lives that our students need us.”

Allan Hancock College and the 119 other community colleges will be winnowed to eight-to-ten finalists in September based on how much students learn, how many complete their programs on time, and how well students do in the job market after graduating.  The college is now eligible to submit an application containing detailed data on these criteria.

Speaking for the jury that will select winners and finalists, former Governor of Michigan John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers, emphasized the tremendous importance of community colleges in preparing the high-tech workforce American companies need.

Aspen will conduct site visits to each of the ten finalists in the fall.  And, based on the evidence, the Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner and two to three runners-up, to be announced in December 2011 in Washington, DC.

The full list of eligible institutions can be found at www.AspenCCPrize.org.

The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, the Lumina Foundation for Education, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, and the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to identify and replicate campus-wide practices that significantly improve college student outcomes.  Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, projects targeting a new generation of college leaders, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses.  For more information, visit www.AspenCCPrize.org.

The Aspen Institute’s mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Aspen Institute does this primarily in four ways: seminars, young-leader fellowships around the globe, policy programs, and public conferences and events. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.