CRYSTAL LAKE – McHenry County College has taken a first step toward a $1 million prize and a national recognition that could boost its image and enrollment.
The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program recently named McHenry County College one of the top 150 community colleges in the country, making it a finalist for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and a $1 million grant.
The Aspen Institute is a Washington-based educational and policy studies organization also charged with awarding the nation’s signature recognition for top community college.
“We were extremely pleased,” college spokeswoman Christina Haggerty said. “It was a slight surprise for us, but we were hopeful we would be presented this opportunity. It’s a great point of pride for our staff that they can rally around.”
While named a finalist, McHenry County College still has a long way to go before nearing the top honor. College officials must submit an application detailing degree and certificate completion rates, student employment and earnings upon graduation and student learning outcomes.
The Aspen Institute will use that information to narrow the field to 10 finalists and conduct site visits at each of those schools.
“Just being acknowledged reaffirms to us that we are moving in the right direction as an institution,” Haggerty said. “Our goal is to win, of course, but this already reaffirms and validates the hard work and quality coming out of the institution. We certainly hope students and families see it as a way to confirm the potential of an [MCC education].”
The initial pool of 150 community colleges was determined using public data on student outcomes, certificate completion rates and retention. Eight other Illinois community colleges were selected, including nearby Elgin Community College. McHenry County College was not the top-ranked in any of the six performance categories among the Illinois qualifiers.
Haggerty said if the college were to receive the $1 million, the money would go toward the student retention and success programs that helped the college earn the top 150 designation.
The 2015 winner will be only the third in the biennial award’s history, with a Florida college winning in 2011 and colleges from Washington and California sharing the title in 2013.