The Aspen Institute has named Wayne Community College as one of the 150 institutions eligible 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 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.
“This is the third consecutive time WCC has been in the Aspen Top 150. This really goes to show not only the excellence of our college, but also the consistency,” said WCC President Patty Pfeiffer. “We are constantly striving to meet the needs of our community, and having the Aspen Institute recognize that is a huge compliment to our college.”
The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges to drive attention to colleges achieving post-graduate success for all students.
Each of the 150 eligible colleges will 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, culminating in the naming of the Aspen Prize winner in spring 2025.
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,” Wyner said.
While community colleges are an essential contributor to the nation’s success, student outcomes vary substantially among institutions. Aspen 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 the 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 full list can be accessed on the Prize homepage.
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 Prize 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, selected by the Prize selection panel
• Fall 2024: Site visits to each of the ten 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 Prize jury at full-day meeting
• Spring 2025: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration of the 10 finalists in Washington DC
For a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions and to read more on the selection process, visit
The Aspen Prize is funded by Ascendium, the Joyce Foundation, JPMorgan, and the Kresge Foundation.
Previous winners include Amarillo College in Texas and Imperial Valley College in California (2023), San Antonio College in Texas (2021), Indian River State College in Florida and Miami Dade College in Florida (2019), Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota (2017), Santa Fe College in Florida (2015), Santa Barbara City College in California and Walla Walla Community College in Washington (2013), and Valencia College in Florida (2011).
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 the economy, society, and democracy. For more information, visit the Institute’s website and follow it on LinkedIn and Twitter @AspenHigherEd.
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.
About Wayne Community College
Wayne Community College is a public, learning-centered institution with an open-door admission policy located in Goldsboro, N.C. As it works to develop a highly skilled and competitive workforce, the college serves around 10,000 individuals annually as well as businesses, industry, and community organizations with high quality, affordable, accessible learning opportunities, including more than 240 college credit programs. WCC’s mission is to meet the educational, training, and cultural needs of the communities it serves.