Rend Lake College makes Aspen Institute's top 150 community colleges list
Rend Lake College appeared yet again on Aspen Institute’s list of the top 150 community colleges in the country, making it eligible to compete for the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and $1 million.
Aspen Institute awards the prize every two years based on the schools’ performance in four areas: student learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and access and success for minority and low-income students.
This year marks Rend Lake College’s fourth consecutive appearance on the list – 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
“(This recognition) is a testament to our faculty and our staff and the people I work with every day,” Terry Wilkerson, president of Rend Lake College, told Southwest Illinois News. “Anytime you get a little bit of notoriety like this for some of the good work you are doing, especially in times when maybe education has taken a hit or two, it is always good to reassure people there are good things going on in education and good things are happening.”
The criteria are broken down into four categories: performance, change over time, equity and family income.
Under performance, the measures are: first-year retention rates, three-year graduation rates, and certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent students. The data from Aspen Institute showed that Rend Lake College’s head count totals approximately 14,690 students with a 57.8 first-year retention rate. The college has a rate of 69.2 for three-year graduation rate, which is well above the 39.4 average of all community colleges.
“I think it is that affirmation you get,” Wilkerson said. “We’ve got a lot of issues with the state right now, so I think every once in a while, it is good to have something like this come along to reassure people that education is a higher calling.”
Change over time is measured by performance variables (first-year retention rates, three-year graduation rates and certificates, and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent students) increasing or declining over five years. Again, Rend Lake College outperformed the average of all community colleges with a 4.0 rating compared to the average 1.7 rating.
Equity metrics include graduation rate for underrepresented minority students, and certificates and degrees awarded per 100 full-time equivalent students for underrepresented minority students, accounting for 26.6 percent weighting value of the total measures for first-round selections.
The last measure is median family income of institution location, which falls under family income. This data is taken from the institution’s Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA). The PUMA area defined by the Census Bureau contains approximately 100,000 to 150,000 residents, and is considered a better unit of analysis than county since the institution typically draws a large percentage of its students from the area in which it is located.
“There are exceptional community colleges across our country providing students with a high-quality, affordable education that leads to good careers and strong economic opportunity,” Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program, said in a statement. “Through this competition, we’re working to inspire community colleges and help them understand how to ensure that more students succeed.”
Rend Lake College is one of eight Illinois institutions chosen for the first round. After a second round in the selection process, 10 finalists will advance, and then the $1 million winner will be announced in early 2017.