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Community Colleges Cite Dedication to Students for Aspen Honor

Central Community College

At first glance, it might seem like Northeast Community College and Central Community College do not have a lot in common.

While both colleges cover large geographic areas, Northeast has only one campus, with extended campuses in West Point, O’Neill and South Sioux City and regional offices in Ainsworth and Hartington.

Central Community College has three campuses, located in Columbus, Grand Island and Hastings, with centers in Holdrege, Kearney, Lexington and Ord.

And while the high schools in these geographic areas often compete in high school sports and academic contests, and the towns sometimes compete to attract industry and shoppers, residents in both regions can be proud of their respective community colleges.

Both were honored on Monday by being named to the Aspen Institute’s 150 top community colleges in the nation. More than 1,000 eligible community colleges were considered.

CCC and Northeast are now 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.

CCC made the Aspen 150 in 2015, 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2023.

Dr. Matt Gotschall, CCC president, said he is proud of CCC faculty, staff and administration for being honored again.

“It demonstrates our commitment to student success, especially in terms of transfer, completion of an award, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds,” Gotschall said. “A great reminder of how we can earn national recognition through fulfilling our area mission of maximizing community and student success.”

Northeast was named a Top 120 institution in both 2011 and 2013, a Top 10 college in 2017, and Top 150 in 2019, 2021 and 2023.  

Dr. Leah Barrett, president of Northeast, said Northeast is honored to be recognized by the esteemed Aspen Institute.

“We are pleased to be included with so many other respected institutions on this highly regarded list,” Barrett said. “It is an acknowledgement of the work of our dedicated faculty and staff who work diligently in meeting the needs of our students and workforce demands across the entire 20-county service area.” 

Northeast and CCC are the only Nebraska community colleges to make the list.

Both are known for their service to students and industries and incorporating the latest technology into their curriculum. Whether it is the state’s dominant industry of agriculture or some of the new and growing industries such as wind, both colleges are responsive to the needs within their service areas.

“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.” 

Aspen measures community college variances using multiple data sources. It honors colleges with 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 this 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. 

Barrett said residents of both regions are fortunate to be able to attend institutions like Northeast and CCC.

“Central and Northeast earn this honor because of our faculty and staff who support the success of our students and the region that we serve,” Barrett said. “And we both have been fortunate to attract a great number of students from all backgrounds who are serious about their education and are willing to put in the effort.”