Cloud County Community College Named Semifinalist For 2023 Aspen Prize


25 Colleges Are Eligible for $1 Million Prize to Be Awarded Next Year; Expanded Prize Field Signifies Growing Momentum for Community College Reform

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WASHINGTON, D.C., April 27, 2022 — Today the Aspen Institute announced Cloud County Community College as one of 25 semifinalists for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, adding a milestone in the award selection process. The $1 million Aspen Prize is the nation’s signature recognition of community colleges that are achieving high, improving, and equitable outcomes for students. In years past, only ten finalists have been named on the road to the winner, and this change is designed to highlight the increased number of colleges across the country doing excellent work.

“We are honored to receive this distinction as one of the top 25 community colleges in America,” said Amber Knoettgen, Cloud County Community College President. “It is especially meaningful because it recognizes the work of our faculty, staff and students in support of Cloud’s mission to prepare students to lead successful lives.”

Awarded every two years, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding performance in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equitable outcomes for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. The winner will be announced in the spring of 2023.

“We are thrilled to see America’s community colleges making meaningful and measurable progress, educating people from all backgrounds and preparing them for good jobs,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. He cited graduation rates that have risen more than six percent for all students since 2015, and five percent for students of color. “These twenty-five colleges represent our dreams for a better country and a reinvigorated democracy.”

The semifinalists are:

  • Amarillo College, Texas
  • Broward College, Florida
  • Cloud County Community College, Kansas
  • Elgin Community College, Illinois
  • Georgia Highlands College, Georgia
  • Harper College, Illinois
  • Hostos Community College (CUNY), New York
  • Imperial Valley College, California
  • Itawamba Community College, Mississippi
  • Kingsborough Community College (CUNY), New York
  • LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), New York
  • Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, Mississippi
  • Moorpark College, California
  • North Iowa Area Community College, Iowa
  • Northwest Iowa Community College, Iowa
  • Pierce College District, Washington
  • San Jacinto College, Texas
  • Seminole State College of Florida, Florida
  • South Florida State College, Florida
  • South Puget Sound Community College, Washington
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College, Wisconsin
  • Southwestern Community College, North Carolina
  • Tallahassee Community College, Florida
  • Union County College, New Jersey
  • Western Technical College, Wisconsin

The Prize selection process began this past October, when the Aspen Institute invited 150 community colleges to apply, based on data showing strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Applications went to a diverse selection committee of 16 higher education experts who reviewed extensive data and application narratives. Next, the committee will review interviews with leadership teams and narrow this selection of 25 semifinalists to 10 finalists, to be announced in early June 2022.

After 10 finalists are announced, next steps include:

  • Fall 2022: Multi-day site visits to each of the 10 finalists, when teams of experts collect even more student outcomes data and gather insights about effective practices
  • Winter of 2023: A distinguished jury decides who wins the Aspen Prize, based on quantitative data and qualitative information from each of the 10 finalists
  • Late spring 2023: Announcement of the Aspen Prize winner
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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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