By Katie Linton
The Aspen Prize for “community college excellence” is a $1 million prize awarded to one of the top 150 colleges in the country every two years.
“They have a formula that they use with school’s data and see that these are the colleges that are excelling.’” said Ed Harri, the Dean for Instruction at Whatcom Community College.
Harri has been at Whatcom since 1999 when he started as a math teacher. He got the position as Dean for Instruction in 2012. He works to support grants and strategic planning, as well as co-chairs the “Student Success and Achievement Committee.”
Applying for grants is a similar process to that of nominating Whatcom for the Aspen Prize and “many of the grants we’ve gotten have helped us get recognized for the Aspen Prize.” Harri said.
Every two years since 2011, the Aspen Institute, an “educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC (according to their website), collects a variety of data from all the community colleges in the nation.
They look at things like completion outcomes: the numbers of associates degrees completed, labor market outcomes: how the college focuses on “labor market needs” to result in higher employment rates after graduation, learning outcomes: improvement of student’s learning within their courses, and equitable outcomes: providing/maintaining access and success among underrepresented minorities.
“[The Aspen Institute] puts all these numbers together and finds the top 150 in the country.” Said Harri.
Once a school is on the top 150 list it’s up to the individual colleges to nominate themselves with more data that wasn’t available to the Aspen Institute when they were conducting their search for the eligible community colleges.
Whatcom has been on the top 150 list for three of the four times this award has been presented. Which is an accomplishment in itself; being in the top 150, out of the approximate 1,000 community colleges in the nation, puts Whatcom in the top 15 percent.
Harri said “we are above average in all categories, but the two measures we really excel in are the number of degrees per. 100 students and the number of degrees for underrepresented minority students per 100 students.”
Right now Whatcom is in the top 150, which means we’ve passed round one and are eligible to send in applications for round two. In round two, ten colleges will be selected from the original 150.
“The application is due on March 4, and we are currently making progress on the application.” Said Harri.
As for that $1 million prize?
Harri said he personally “would love to see us invest into the efforts that got us the award in the first place.”