The Aspen Institute Names NCC as a Semifinalist for 2023 Aspen Prize, Adding a Milestone in the Award Process

25 Colleges Are Eligible for a $1 Million Prize to Be Awarded Next Year; Expanded Prize Field Signifies Growing Momentum for Community College Reform

CONTACT: Anne Larkin, 208-596-5886,
Kristin Kollbaum, 712-631-5634,

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 27, 2022 — Today the Aspen Institute announced 25 semifinalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, adding a milestone in the award selection process. The $1 million Aspen Prize is the nation’s signature recognition of community colleges that are achieving high, improving, and equitable outcomes for students. In years past, only ten finalists have been named on the road to the winner, and this change is designed to highlight the increased number of colleges across the country doing excellent work.

The 25 semifinalists are:
Amarillo College, TX
Broward College, FL
Cloud County Community College, KS
Elgin Community College, IL
Georgia Highlands College, GA
Harper College, IL
Hostos Community College (CUNY), NY
Imperial Valley College, CA
Itawamba Community College, MS
Kingsborough Community College (CUNY), NY
LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), NY
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, MS
Moorpark College, CA
North Iowa Area Community College, IA
Northwest Iowa Community College, IA
Pierce College, WA
San Jacinto College, TX
Seminole State College of Florida, FL
South Florida State College, FL
South Puget Sound Community College, WA
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, WI
Southwestern Community College, NC
Tallahassee Community College, FL
Union County College, NJ
Western Technical College, WI

Awarded every two years, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding performance in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. The winner will be announced in the spring of 2023.

The Prize selection process began this past October, when the Aspen Institute invited 150 community colleges to apply, based on data showing strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Applications went to a diverse selection committee of 16 higher education experts who reviewed extensive data and application narratives.

Dr. John Hartog, president of Northwest Iowa Community College, explained, “NCC is one of the few colleges that has been among the 150 colleges that are eligible for the Aspen Prize all seven times since the inception of the competition (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2023). This places NCC among the highest performing community colleges in the nation.”

NCC performed well when compared with the other 150 Aspen Prize eligible colleges:

  • Top 5% for graduation rates for Pell Grant recipients (low-income students)
  • Top 8% for first-year retention rate
  • Top 8% for 3-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students
  • Top 11% for 3-year graduation rate for students of color

As a result, NCC has been honored as one of the 25 semifinalist colleges for the 2023 Aspen Prize competition.

“We are thrilled to see America’s community colleges making meaningful and measurable progress, educating people from all backgrounds and preparing them for good jobs,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. He cited graduation rates that have risen more than six percent for all students since 2015, and five percent for students of color. “These twenty-five colleges represent our dreams for a better country and a reinvigorated democracy.”

Hartog responded, “In previous award cycles, Aspen had not recognized the top 25 colleges, so this is an exciting new step for NCC in this award process. We are grateful for this prestigious recognition which speaks so well of our Trustees and employees—all of whom constantly focus on student success. NCC contributes to the strength and vitality of Northwest Iowa by providing quality, accessible, and affordable education to all our students.”

Next, the committee will review its interviews with college leadership teams and will narrow this selection of 25 semifinalists to 10 finalists, to be announced in early June 2022.

After 10 finalists are announced, next steps include:

  • Fall 2022: Multi-day site visits to each of the 10 finalists, when teams of experts collect
    even more student outcomes data and gather insights about effective practices
  • Winter of 2023: A distinguished jury decides who wins the Aspen Prize, based on quantitative data and qualitative information from each of the 10 finalists
  • Late spring 2023: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner

Hartog concluded, “We are humbled by Aspen’s repeated recognition and excited to be a semifinalist in this award cycle.  At times like this, we reaffirm our missional commitments.  Regardless of the outcome, as a semifinalist, we determine to do even better for all our students, industry partners, and communities.”

The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium, the Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan, and the Kresge Foundation.

Previous winners are:

  • 2021: San Antonio College (TX)
  • 2019: Indian River State College (FL) and Miami Dade College (FL)
  • 2017: Lake Area Technical Institute (SD)
  • 2015: Santa Fe College (FL)
  • 2013: Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA)
  • 2011: Valencia College (FL)

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit and, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter. The Aspen Prize hashtag is #AspenPrize.

The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit