Malvern's College of the Ouachitas is one of 10 finalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America's community colleges. College of the Ouachitas, located in Malvern, now enters the last stage of the competition for the $1 million prize fund that will be awarded in March in Washington, D.C. to the winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction.
Selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges, the Prize recognizes the most outstanding institutions for achievements in four areas: student learning outcomes, degree and college completion, labor market success in students securing jobs after college, and minority and low-income student success.
"College of the Ouachitas is making sure students have the best chance to succeed both in completing their degrees and getting a good job after graduation," said Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program. "Its leadership is listening to both its students and to the needs of local businesses, looking closely at data, and consistently improving programs based on what it sees and hears."
College of the Ouachitas is located in a rural area of Arkansas characterized by a contracting job market and high school graduates who are often not college-ready when they arrive on campus. The administration and faculty are focused on providing students with the tools and support they need, placing a premium on identifying concrete ways to change entire college programs to improve student learning and completion. As a result, three-year graduation and transfer rates have increased steadily over the past several years from 40% in 2006 to 52% in 2010.
Nearly Half Attend Community College
Nearly half of all college students attend community college, with more than seven million students - youth and adult learners - enrolled across America, including rapidly growing lower-income and Hispanic student populations.
With four-year colleges and universities costing from $10,000-$60,000 per year per student, community colleges, growing at over four times the rate of four-year colleges, remain the most affordable option in higher education for millions of people in this country. In fact, average tuition and fees at public two-year colleges increased 1.8% per year from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010 after adjusting for inflation, compared to 4.9% at public four-year colleges and universities.
The ten community colleges named as finalists today were selected from an original national pool of over 1,000, and pared down to a list of 120 in April. An advisory committee expert in community college data and performance - co-chaired by William Trueheart, chief executive officer of Achieving the Dream, and Keith Bird, former college president and state community college system chancellor - devised a formula to select the 120 based on publicly available data.
The formula considered three factors, each weighted equally:
- Performance (retention, graduation rates including transfers, and degrees and certificates per 100 "full time equivalent" students)
- Improvement (steady improvement in each performance metric over time)
- Equity (evidence of completion outcomes for minority and low-income students)
The full list of the finalists includes:
- Brazosport College, Lake Jackson, TX
- Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL
- College of the Ouachitas, Malvern, AR
- Kingsborough Community College - CUNY, Brooklyn, NY
- Lake Area Technical Institute, Watertown, SD*
- Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA*
- Santa Fe College, Gainesville, FL
- Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, Cumberland, KY
- Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA*
- West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY*