PANAMA CITY – The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program named Gulf Coast State 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.


“It is a true honor to be recognized as one of the ‘best of the best’ among all of the outstanding community colleges in this country, and invited to apply for the Aspen Prize. Our culture at Gulf Coast is to keep student success at the forefront of every decision we make and action we take, and it is very gratifying to see the positive impact we have in the lives of the students we serve,” said Dr. John Holdnak, President of Gulf Coast State College. “Last year’s direct hit by Category 5 Hurricane Michael, the third strongest storm to ever hit North America, came close to destroying our college and the hopes and dreams of our students. Instead, we picked up the pieces of our buildings and our lives, and began to rebuild – making it our mandate that our students not only survive but thrive. Their personal perseverance and academic success, against overwhelming odds, has been heartwarming and inspirational to us all!”


The 150 community colleges named 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.


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.