August 1, 2012


Northeast Officials Interviewed for Aspen Prize

Several officials at Northeast Alabama Community College recently had a unique and rare career experience when they were interviewed by representatives of the Aspen Institute as part of a process of awarding a national prize for community college excellence. Early this year, the Aspen Institute had chosen Northeast to be in the top ten percent of America’s approximately 1,200 community colleges. This selection criteria used in this process was based on public data for community colleges on completion and retention rates, student outcomes, changes over time, and equity in student achievement.

Based on the information submitted by the top ten percent of the community colleges chosen, an expert Selection Committee identified 25-40 of the colleges to conduct interviews with this summer to gather additional data and information, according to the Aspen Institute. The information obtained in these interviews along with the existing data will be used to narrow the pool of nominees for the final prize and honorees.

The conference call interview with Northeast officials was conducted by Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program, along with Rachel Roth, Program Manager for the College Excellence Program. Northeast was represented by Dr. David Campbell, President; Dr. Joe Burke, Vice President/Dean of Instruction; Tonie Niblett, Dean of Student Services; and Brad Fricks, Director of Institutional Planning and Assessment.

“It is quite an honor for the college to participate in this program,” stated Dr. Campbell. “The Aspen Institute is a partner with the American Association of Community Colleges and the United States Department of Education in this program. So at this level a college involved in the interview process is participating in a national arena. We can all be proud of this accomplishment.”

Dr. Burke stated: “The interviewers asked probing questions that went farther than what could be articulated in the application package we completed. They seemed to want to get a better ‘feel’ for a college like Northeast whose data shows is achieving excellence. One of the reasons NACC is data-driven is to enable us to find out what is working and what is not working in student success then strive to improve on those initiatives based on the data. It is exciting to be one of the relatively few colleges in America selected for the interview.”

Dean Niblett added, “The Aspen Institute seemed quite interested in Northeast’s tutoring program and inquired about how the program is organized and whether or not data is collected to show the effectiveness of the program. We were happy to report that data is collected each semester and the impact is studied by NACC’s staff charged with overseeing the tutoring efforts.”

Aspen Institute officials stated that the “top ten percent” institutions were chosen by having demonstrated strong performance and improvement in 1) first-year retention rates, 2) three-year graduation and transfer rates, and 3) credentials awarded per 100 “full-time equivalent students,” including underrepresented and low income students. The Aspen Institute utilized standardized data collected at the federal level in selecting the colleges.

The Aspen Institute ultimately will choose ten of the “top ten percent” community colleges as finalists for the Aspen Prize of one million dollars. These colleges will be notified of their selection later this summer. After these finalists are named, a Prize Jury will visit each college in the fall and then name a grand prize winner and up to four runner-ups in March of 2013.

The Aspen Institute itself is a non-profit educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Walter Isaacson serves as President and CEO of the Aspen Institute, and Board members include such well known leaders as Madeleine Albright, Chair, Albright Stonebridge Group and Chair; Robert K. Steel, New York City Deputy Mayor of Economic Development; Sylvia Earle, Chairman, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research; Michael Eisner, Former Chairman and CEO, the Walt Disney Company; Stephen Carter, Professor of Law, Yale University Law School; David Gergen, Professor of Public Service, John F. Kennedy School of Government; and Condoleezza Rice, Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution. (For a full list of Board Members go to

The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence is intended to honor excellence at America’s community colleges, while stimulating innovation, and clearly defining standards of success. Aspen Institute officials state that “improving community college completion rates is a vital national priority.” Community colleges, the Aspen Institute notes on its website, must be a large part of the plan to have the United States remain a leader in postsecondary education and economic growth. The Community College Excellence program is designed to encourage effective community college leaders and help institutions learn from their peers.

Also involved and sponsoring the Community College Excellence program are the Joyce, Lumina and W. K. Kellogg Foundations, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable foundations of Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and America Achieves.

Dr. David Campbell,
President of NACC

“It’s quite obvious that all the right questions about improving American community college education are being asked in this process,” Dr. Campbell stated. “Answers to those questions and the information the questions will generate will result in a stronger and better American community college system. We at Northeast are very pleased to be a part of all this.”

For more information about the Aspen Institute, go to For information about Northeast go to or download the college’s App from the Apple Store or by going to


Related news release:  NACC Receives Congratulations from ACHE Executive Director and AACC President/CEO