In an attempt to highlight the importance of community colleges to the success of American students, the Aspen Institute annually selects the top 10% of community colleges in the nation and invites them to compete for a portion of $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Yesterday, the Institute announced the 120 candidates for the 2013 prize, who will now undergo a year-long evaluation of their academic outcomes. The Institute uses a quantitative formula that takes into account the schools’ graduation rates, retention rates, areas studied and how invested the colleges are in their student success to select its candidates from thousands of community colleges nationwide. The follow-up research will also look at how recent graduates do in the job market. Once the nominees are notified, the second stage of the selection process will begin. These community colleges have been invited to submit applications containing detailed data on degree/certificate completion (including progress and transfer rates), labor market outcomes (employment and earnings) and student learning outcomes. They must demonstrate that they deliver exceptional student results for all students – including those who come from racial minority and/or low-income backgrounds – and also use data to inform decisions and continually improve over time. The Institute will review this data, and select ten finalists who will be named in September. The last stage of the process will involve in-person visits and final deliberation by the by the Prize Jury, made up of former Michigan Governor John Engler and former South Carolina Governor Richard Riley. The winner and four runners up, chosen by the Jury, will be named in March 2013. “American employers have jobs open right now but lack enough skilled, educated workers to fill them,” Engler said. “The job training programs at community colleges must play a central role in filling those gaps and preparing the American workforce. Community colleges’ success will help determine whether and in what sectors America will continue to lead in the global economy.” The Aspen Institute began awarding the prize in 2011, when Valencia Community College bested the competition to walk away the winner. Valencia College, which is based in Orlando, Florida, is home to 70,000 students.