The Aspen Institute Names NCC as a Top 20 Semifinalist for Prestigious 2025 Aspen Prize

Northwest Iowa Community College is one of 20 Community Colleges Being Considered for $1 Million National Prize that Recognizes Excellence in Student Outcomes, Both in College and After Graduation

Today, the Aspen Institute once again named Northwest Iowa Community College as a semifinalist for the 2025 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The $1 million award is the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among community colleges. The institutions selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success, as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.

NCC stands among an elite group of institutions consistently recognized in the Aspen Prize competition. Since the prize’s inception, NCC has been selected every cycle as one of the eligible colleges—a distinction shared with only 19 other institutions out of the 1,462 community colleges nationwide, placing NCC in the top 1.36% of community colleges in the country. This consistent recognition, across eight cycles (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021, 2023, and now for 2025), underscores NCC’s sustained excellence and leadership in higher education. Most recently, in the 2023 cycle, NCC advanced from the top 150 to the top 25 and then to the top 10, affirming its status as one of the nation’s highest performing community colleges.

NCC’s exceptional performance is further highlighted by its rankings among the 150 Aspen Prize eligible colleges. These achievements underscore its commitment to academic excellence and equitable outcomes:

  • Top 4% for graduation rates among Pell Grant recipients, highlighting strong support for low-income students.
  • Top 7% in first-year retention rate, ensuring students are well supported in their initial college year.
  • Top 7% for the three-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time students, demonstrating effective educational programs.
  • Top 9% for part-time student completion rates, reflecting flexibility and accessibility in educational offerings.
  • Top 13% for the number of graduates per 100 full-time equivalent students, indicating high productivity and educational effectiveness.
  • Top 28% for the three-year graduation rate for students of color, showcasing a commitment to inclusivity and diverse student success.

Dr. John Hartog, President of NCC, commented, “We are grateful to the Aspen Institute for its prize program since it spotlights the great work that community colleges are doing all across our country. Every day, community colleges provide instruction that improves people and their communities. NCC is encouraged to be a semifinalist college for the 2025 Aspen Prize cycle. This distinction reflects the unwavering dedication of our faculty, staff, and Trustees to transform lives and build brighter futures through education. As we continue to advance our programs and support systems, we remain focused on the holistic success of our students, preparing them not just for graduation, but for a thriving future. NCC’s solid performance is clearly and consistently reflected in the metrics, but far more importantly it can be seen in the enduring successes of its alumni.”

Awarded every two years, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding performance in six critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, broad access to the college and its offerings, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. The winner will be announced in the spring of 2025.

Joshua Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, congratulated the semifinalists. “Each of these colleges has demonstrated a sustained commitment to moving beyond enrollment and retention as the markers of student success to defining their success by whether the education they provide changes lives,” Wyner said. “These colleges understand that enrollment and graduation matter most when tied tightly to post-graduation success in transferring for a bachelor’s degree and in securing fulfilling, good-paying jobs and careers.”

The semifinalists are:

  • Broward College
  • Georgia Highlands College
  • Kingsborough Community College
  • MiraCosta College
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College
  • Moorpark College
  • North Iowa Area Community College
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
  • Northwest Iowa Community College
  • Northwest Vista College
  • San Jacinto College
  • Seminole State College of Florida
  • South Puget Sound Community College
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
  • State Technical College of Missouri
  • Trinidad State College
  • Union College of Union County, NJ
  • Wallace State Community College-Hanceville
  • Western Technical College
  • William Rainey Harper College

The Aspen Prize selection process began in October 2023, when Aspen invited 150 community colleges to apply, based on data showing strong, improving, and equitable student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, and transfer. One hundred and eighteen colleges applied, and their applications went to a diverse selection committee of 18 higher education experts who assessed each application based on extensive data and narrative answers to questions. Following interviews with leadership teams from applicants receiving top scores, 20 semifinalists were selected. In the coming weeks, the committee will continue its review and narrow the field to 10 finalists, which will be announced in June.

After the 10 finalists are announced, next steps in the process include:

  • Fall 2024: Multi-day in-person site visits to each of the 10 finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information and data, including extensive employment and earnings data on graduates from the finalist colleges.
  • Winter 2025: A distinguished, independent Aspen Prize jury will review data and qualitative summaries that synthesize each part of the 14-month analyses, then meet for a full day to select the winner and others for additional recognition.
  • Spring 2025: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington DC.

To read more on the selection process, visit https://highered.aspeninstitute.org/aspen-prize.

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

Previous winners are:

  • 2023: Amarillo College (TX) and Imperial Valley College (CA)
  • 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)

Note: Colleges that have won the Aspen Prize are not eligible to apply in subsequent years

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program supports colleges and universities in their quest to achieve a higher standard of excellence, delivering credentials that unlock life-changing careers and strengthen our economy, society, and democracy. We know it takes visionary college leaders to lead scaled, sustainable reforms, and we make it our mission to equip them with the knowledge, skills, and research-backed tools to inspire change, shift practice, and advance the capacity of colleges to deliver excellent and equitable student outcomes. For more information, visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn and X.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization whose purpose is to ignite human potential to build understanding and create new possibilities for a better world. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve society’s greatest challenges. It is headquartered in Washington, DC and has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, as well as an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.

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