Aspen Institute selects 6 KCTCS community colleges as top 150 eligible for $1 million prize for student outcomes

Published on Nov 6, 2023

Six colleges within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System have been selected to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance among two-year community colleges.

The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success.

The colleges include:

-- Ashland Community and Technical College.

-- Gateway Community and Technical College.

-- Hazard Community and Technical College.

-- Madisonville Community College.

-- Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College.

--West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

“I am so proud of our faculty and staff, as well as our board and state policy leaders, for being laser-focused on improving outcomes for Kentucky’s students -- of all ages and stages of their education,” said KCTCS Acting President Larry Ferguson. “This national distinction confirms we’re moving in the right direction for students and the colleges are among the best in the nation.”

“It's also a great honor for me to have my home campus in the top 15% in the nation,” added Ferguson, who serves as president of ACTC.

The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit student success data and narratives about strategies to achieve better and more equitable student outcomes as the next step in an intensive review process that will culminate in the naming of the Aspen Prize winner in spring 2025.

The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges to drive attention to colleges achieving post-graduate success for all students. It is also a central way the Aspen Institute researches highly effective student success strategies that are shared with the field. The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 30 states, these colleges serve as few as 169 students and as many as 49,619.

"The Aspen Prize is rooted first and foremost in an assessment of whether colleges are walking the walk," said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. "As community colleges face enrollment variations, enroll students with pandemic-related learning loss, and graduate students into a rapidly changing labor market, it is easy to lose track of what matters most.

“The best community colleges are continuing to focus on advancing the core mission: making sure as many students as possible graduate with credentials that lead to fulfilling careers and reflect the development of diverse talent that communities, states, and our nation need," said Wyner.

While community colleges are an essential contributor to the nation's success, student outcomes vary substantially among institutions. The Aspen Institute measures those variances using multiple data sources and honors colleges with outstanding achievement in six critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor's attainment, workforce success, equitable access to the college, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

"These 150 colleges have achieved high and improving levels of student success for all students, including those who are often failed by our institutions," Wyner said. "We're excited to learn over the coming months how they achieved that success so we can share the most impressive practices with others in the field."

In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Colleges must show strong, improving, and equitable student outcomes in first-to-second year retention, credentials awarded, and completion and transfer rates. Nationwide, about 15 percent of community colleges have been invited to apply (150 of just under 1,000 public two-year colleges assessed for Prize eligibility).

The next steps in the process include:

  • April 2024: Announcement of 25 semifinalists, selected based on assessments of extensive data and strategy documents by the selection panel, a group of 16 experts in community colleges, higher education and workforce training, and interviews with institutional leadership teams.
  • June 2024: Announcement of 10 finalists.
  • Fall 2024:  Site visits to each of the finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices.
  • January 2025: Prize award decisions made by distinguished, independent jury at full-day meeting.
  • Spring 2025:  Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington, D.C.

For a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions and to read more on the selection process, visit