Public 2-Year Schools

Bergen Community College Nominated for $1 Million Aspen Prize

Increased retention and graduation rates helped spur Bergen’s eligibility for the Aspen Prize.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program has named Bergen Community College as one of the nation’s top 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Selected from 1,000 public two-year colleges, Bergen earned entry on the strength of its student outcome data – including its ranking as No. 1 in New Jersey for associate degree graduates – and stands as one of only two New Jersey colleges eligible this year.

“Bergen Community College’s eligibility for the 2019 Aspen Prize places it among the nation’s elite institutions,” Bergen President Michael D. Redmond, Ph.D., said. “The College has become eligible due to the work of its faculty and staff who have focused the institution’s efforts on helping students become successful. When our students succeed, it validates our efforts and remains a source of pride for the institution and our community.”

Regarded as a signature achievement for community colleges, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions supporting student success in four areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. The Joyce Foundation and the Siemens Foundation will fund this year’s award.

As part of the selection process, Bergen staff and faculty will prepare reports on the initiatives that have helped fuel its effective student outcomes. The Aspen Institute will name its top 10 finalists in May 2018 and conduct site visits to each of the selected colleges before announcing the top institution in 2019.

The inaugural Aspen Prize, awarded in 2011, recognized Valencia College in Florida. Since then, Santa Barbara City College in California and Walla Walla Community College in Washington (2013), Santa Fe College in Florida (2015) and Lake Area Technical College in South Dakota (2017) topped the biennial competition.

Bergen, in the midst of its 50th anniversary celebration, has grown to the state’s largest community college with more than 14,000 students taking classes this semester. Alumni have transferred to every Ivy League institution and rank No. 11 in the nation for mid-career salaries among associate degree holders, according to Payscale.

Evaluators from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education lauded Bergen’s commitment to student success in the College’s 2016 decennial accreditation assessment, praising 48 specific areas of excellence, referring to them as best practices for any institution.

Initiatives have included enhancing student support services such as the the Cerullo Learning Assistance Center, which has twice received “tutoring center of the year” honors in the past three years, the streamlined registration and financial aid services established in 2014 and the institution’s acceptance into the Achieving the Dream college reform network.

Bergen has also deployed retention strategies that target hidden obstacles students face while seeking a college degree – including tactics such as partnering with the Center for Food Action to open a pantry for students battling hunger.

In total, these strategies have improved many of the College’s federally collected data points such as its graduation and persistence rates and ultimately assisted a greater number of students in achieving their goals at the institution.

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, D.C; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners.