Cowley College

Aspen Institute Names Cowley College as a Top 150 U.S. Community College Eligible for 2021 Aspen Prize

$1 Million Prize Recognizes Excellence in Equitable Outcomes for Students in and After College

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 5, 2019 — The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program today named Cowley College as one of 150 community colleges eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America's community colleges. Based on strong and improving in student outcomes—including in learning, completion rates, employment rates and earnings, and equity—15 percent of community colleges nationwide have been invited to apply for the Aspen Prize.

“Aspen Institute’s recognition of Cowley College as one of the top two-year colleges in student achievement and performance directly speaks to the concerted efforts of all Cowley College employees and our Board of Trustees to keep student success as our number one priority,” Cowley College president Dr. Dennis C. Rittle said. “Advancing student success requires innovation and courage, and our team excels in these areas. Congratulations Tiger Nation!”

The 150 community colleges named today as eligible to compete for the 2021 Aspen Prize were selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide using publicly available data on student outcomes. Located in 39 states in urban, rural, and suburban areas, serving as few as 500 students and as many as 75,000 students, these colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector.

“The Aspen Institute rightly recognizes Cowley College for the increasing level of student success, particularly the most recent 6% rise in completion awards when comparing academic years 2017-2018 and 2018-2019,” executive director of institutional effectiveness Deborah Phelps said. “Degree attainment can be life changing for students and at Cowley College, our end goal is to work together to best serve our students.”

Data show that over the last two years, student retention, graduation rates, and degree completion have improved at the top tier of 150 Aspen Prize-eligible colleges.

“Community colleges play a vital role in developing talent and enabling social mobility across the country, and it’s critical for them to get better at what they do,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “We’re pleased to see evidence that these institutions are improving, that more are delivering on their promise. We’re also pleased to play a role in honoring outstanding community colleges and sharing what works to ensure great outcomes for students—through graduation and beyond.”

The top ten finalists for the 2021 Aspen Prize will be named in May 2020. The Aspen Institute will then conduct site visits to each of the finalists and collect additional quantitative data, including employment and earnings data. A distinguished jury will make award decisions in spring 2021.

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence are: Miami Dade College (FL) and Indian River State College (FL), 2019; Lake Area Technical College (SD), 2017; Santa Fe College (FL), 2015; Santa Barbara City College (CA) and Walla Walla Community College (WA), 2013; Valencia College (FL), 2011.

“Cowley College has a long history of providing a quality learning environment for students and it is an honor to receive this recognition from The Aspen Institute as a top 150 community college,” vice president of academic affairs Dr. Michelle Schoon said. “Student success is a primary focus at the College and is achieved by a focused effort of all employees as a whole.”

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