Joe Wyatt
Published June 9, 2020

A leading authority has ranked Amarillo College among the Top 10 community colleges in the nation, a significant distinction that keeps AC in the running to share in a $1 million prize when 1 of the 10 is crowned No. 1 next spring.

AspenGraphicINAC is one of 10 finalists for the 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The shortlist was announced today (June 9) by the Aspen Institute, which has presented the prestigious national award every two years since 2011.

The Aspen Prize is the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges, and the Top 10 (listed below) emerged from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide.

In November of 2019, Amarillo College, for the first time ever, was named as one of the 150 colleges eligible to compete for the Aspen Prize, so reaching the Top 10 is a continuation of an unparalleled odyssey for AC.

The $1 million Prize purse will be awarded at an event next spring to the winner, finalists-with-distinction, and a “Rising Star” that has achieved exceptional levels of improvement.

“This tremendous recognition is a testament to the commitment, hard work and compassion of our faculty and staff,” AC President Russell Lowery-Hart said.

“Energized by the decisive leadership of our Regents and by palpable support from throughout our community, our incredible team has created a Culture of Caring through which we are educating students in profound and effective ways. Our College – there’s no other way to say it – loves our students to success.

“Being ranked alongside the amazing luminaries that comprise Aspen’s Top 10 is incredibly gratifying, yet humbling,” he said. “At a time when all of higher education is compelled to manage an unimaginable pandemic, this honor not only puts wind in our sails, it takes our breath away.”

The focus of the Aspen Prize is assessing community colleges’ achievements in terms of student success in four areas: teaching and learning, degree completion and successful transfer to four-year institutions, success in the workforce, and equitable outcomes for diverse student groups.

Since launching its Culture of Caring, Learning and Innovation, Amarillo College’s gains have outpaced those being recorded nationally in A-to-C pass rates and fall-to-fall retention, three-year graduation and transfer rates, percentage of students who attend full time, and more.


Just last year, AC was a recipient of Achieving the Dream’s Leah Meyer Austin Award, a substantial national accolade contingent upon measurable improvements in student outcomes. Additionally, AC’s spring 2020 graduating class of nearly 1,200 was the largest in history.


“Amarillo College has achieved incredible improvements as it strives to move students out of poverty and advance its regional economy,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program. “Amarillo has committed to a culture of caring, using data and conversations to deeply understand students’ needs and then ensuring that everyone on campus is prepared to support students however necessary—both in and out of the classroom.”


The 2021 Aspen Prize Finalists (listed in alphabetical order):

Amarillo College, Amarillo, TX

Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York, NY

Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Odessa College, Odessa, TX

Pasadena City College, Pasadena, CA

Pierce College, Pierce County, WA

San Antonio College, San Antonio, TX

San Jacinto College, Pasadena, TX

Tallahassee Community College, Tallahassee, FL

West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY


“The Aspen Prize finalists define what it means to be an excellent community college,” Wyner said. “By organizing everything they do around student success, these colleges stand at the forefront of national efforts to develop the talents of diverse students that we need to strengthen our nation’s economic future.”


The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium Education Group, Joyce Foundation, and Siemens Foundation.

The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Siemens-Aspen Community College STEM Award, and other initiatives, the College Excellence Program works to improve colleges’ understanding and capacity to teach and graduate students, especially the growing population of low-income and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. 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, DC; 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. For more information, visit