College of the Ouachitas has Eyes on the Prize

College of the Ouachitas was named in September as one of 10 finalists for a prestigious prize that recognizes “high achievement and performance in the nation’s community colleges”.

The 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence will be awarded in March in Washington, D.C., according to a news release by the Aspen Institute. The winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction will share the $1 million prize fund. 

College of the Ouachitas is a comprehensive two-year institution of higher education located in Malvern, AR that serves a rural, five-county service area located in south-central Arkansas. It is the only public two-year college chartered to serve Hot Spring and Clark counties, and shares service provision in Grant, Saline, and Dallas counties. The College provides educational services focused on Adult Education in an outreach center in Sheridan, AR and for the past ten years provided a vocational program in Arkadelphia, AR. Annual enrollments include over 2,100 credit and 4,000 non-credit students.

College President, Dr. Stephen Schoonmaker, announced the news to COTO faculty and staff in the campus’ main foyer. He stated to the gathered crowd, “I am extremely proud of the faculty and staff here at the College. It is your dedication, hard work, and persistent efforts that have been invested in our students, and our students' success, which is being rewarded through this national recognition”.

The finalists were selected from an original national pool of more than 1,000 colleges, and narrowed down in April 2012 to a list of 120 “top” community colleges in the nation, based on publicly available student performance and graduation data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.  College of the Ouachitas is the only college in Arkansas on the Top Ten list.

The Aspen Institute pointed out in its release that “the administration and faculty are focused on providing students with the tools and support they need, placing a premium on identifying concrete ways to change entire college programs to improve student learning and completion. As a result, three-year graduation and transfer rates have increased steadily over the past several years from 40% in 2006 to 52% in 2010.”

The award spotlights and celebrates excellence at a time when community college success is more important to the nation than ever before. “College of the Ouachitas is both honored and humbled to be included in such high rankings,” President Schoonmaker remarked.