Aspen Prize graphic reads Aspen Prize for community college excellence from the Aspen Institute - top 150 for 2025

Saddleback College Named an Aspen Prize Top 150 U.S. Community College
$1 Million Prize Recognizes Excellence in Equitable Outcomes for Students in and After College

Today, Saddleback College was one of 150 community colleges in the nation named by the Aspen Institute as 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. Saddleback was selected for this honor among the more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide for its success in achieving high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds. This is the second cycle in a row for Saddleback to receive this recognition.

Dr. Elliot Stern, President of Saddleback College, stated, “It is a true honor for Saddleback to be recognized by the Aspen Institute for our work in improvements in completions, success gaps, and other student success measures. Some of our work in these areas includes providing each faculty member with completion data to address success gaps in their classes, increasing the number of our Zero Textbook Cost classes, saving students $2 million a semester and creating higher course completions, and surveying student needs, resulting in case management interventions for approximately 2,500 students in the fall semester alone.”

The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to drive attention to those achieving post-graduate success for all students, and provides the Aspen Institute with information on effective student success strategies that are shared in the field. To identify community colleges that are eligible for the Aspen Prize, the Aspen Institute measures variances using multiple data sources and recognizes colleges with outstanding 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. The 150 colleges eligible for the Aspen Prize have achieved high and improving levels of student success for all students, including those who are often failed by higher education institutions. 

Saddleback will submit student success data and narratives about strategies that achieve better and more equitable student outcomes as the next step in an intensive review process that culminates in the naming of the Aspen Prize winner in spring 2025.

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 (150 of just under 1,000 two-year colleges assessed for Prize eligibility). The full list can be access on the Prize homepage.
The next steps in the process include:

  • April 2024: Announcement of 25 semifinalists, selected based on assessments of extensive data and strategy documents by the Prize selection panel, a group of 16 experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, and interviews with institutional leadership teams

  • June 2024: Announcement of 10 finalists, selected by the Prize selection panel

  • Fall 2024: Site visits to each of 10 finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices

  • January 2025: Prize award decisions made by distinguished, independent Prize jury

  • Spring 2025: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner and celebration for the 10 finalists in Washington, DC

To read more about the Aspen Prize and the selection process, visit

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