College of The Albemarle recently announced it’s competing for a $1 million prize awarded to community colleges for high achievement and performance as well as success educating Black and Hispanic students and those from low-income backgrounds.

COA said in a press release it’s one of 150 community colleges — of more than 1,000 across the country — chosen to compete for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The prize is awarded by the Aspen Institute, a 70-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based organization whose stated mission is “a free, just, and equitable society.”

The 150 colleges chosen to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize have been invited to submit data and “narratives” to the Aspen Institute, which plans to announce the prize winner in spring 2023.

“We are proud of this recognition, and it speaks to the excellent work COA faculty and staff have been doing for years,” COA President Jack Bagwell said in the release.

He noted, however, that competing for the prize for community college excellence “does not mean that we have arrived.”

“We are very much engaged in an ongoing effort to get even better every day,” he said. “By further analyzing our data and writing the narratives necessary to move forward in the Aspen Prize process, we will learn something new about ourselves with the ultimate goal being to help a larger and more diverse group of students to achieve success at COA.”


The Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

According to the press release, the 150 community colleges competing for the Aspen Prize are located in urban, suburban and rural communities across 34 states. Some serve as few as 230 students while others serve as many as 57,000.

In the first round of the competition, the 150 colleges must show student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Ten finalists will then be chosen next spring and summer. After that, Aspen Institute officials will visit each finalist institution to collect more information. A panel will then meet and decide on a finalist in early 2023 and the Institute will announce the winner in late spring 2023.

Previous winners of the Aspen Prize have included Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota; Walla Walla Community College in Washington; San Antonio College in Texas; Santa Barbara City College in California; and Indian River State College, Santa Fe College, and Valencia College, all in Florida.

For a full list of the 149 institutions COA is competing against, visit www.highered.aspeninstitute.org/aspen-prize.