POPLARVILLE - Officials at Pearl River Community College have started putting together information they hope will win the prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. PRCC is one of the top 120 two-year colleges in the nation selected to compete for the $1 million prize. Pearl River is a first-round finalist for the second year.Purpose of the prize is to reward and shine a spotlight on community colleges that deliver exceptional student results, to stimulate replication of successful campus practices and leadership and to contribute to the development of high-quality benchmarks for assessing student outcomes.Pearl River Community College is most pleased to have been recognized for the second year in a row as one of America best community colleges, said Dr. William Lewis, president. Being selected as a first_round finalist for this award allows our institution an opportunity to compete with 119 other colleges from across the country for this most prestigious prize.We are most grateful for this significant recognition provided by the Aspen Institute and look forward to competing for the Aspen Prize that will recognize America top two_year institution of higher learning. We believe that Pearl River can be competitive for the top award.PRCC officials will gather and submit data on student outcomes and will show how that data is used to revise and improve policies and practices.PRCC will highlight innovations such as the newly-created Alumni Advisory Board in the utility lineman technology program and the highly-successful dual enrollment practical nursing program for high school students at the Forrest County Center.Ten finalists will be selected for the final competition. The Aspen Institute describes the finalists as community colleges that have produced outstanding results in how much students learn, how many complete their programs on time and how well students do in the job market after graduating.The institute looked at publicly-available data on graduation rates, retention rates and the total number of degrees/certificates awarded relative to total enrollment to select the 120 community colleges eligible for the prize. Other Mississippi colleges in the running are Itawamba, Meridian and Missisisppi Gulf Coast, which also competed in 2011.The success of our nation community colleges is more important than ever before, said Aspen Institute College Excellence Program Executive Director Josh Wyner. At a time when a college degree is essential to entering the middle class, community colleges like Pearl River Community College offer the most promising path to education and employment for literally millions of Americans. This competition spotlights excellence and we encourage Pearl River Community College to apply for the nation top community college prize to help raise the bar for all community colleges to improve student achievement and better prepare the next generation for the job market after college.A distinguished Prize Jury co_chaired by John Engler, president of Business Roundtable, former Michigan governor, and former president of the National Association of Manufacturers, and Richard Riley, former South Carolina governor and U.S. Secretary of Education, will select a grand prize winner and four runners_up. The jury will make site visits to the finalists during the fall and the winners will be announced in March 2013.The first Aspen Prize was awarded in December 2011 to Valencia College in Orlando, Fla. Finalists-with-distinction in 2011 were Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota, Miami Dade College in Florida, Walla Walla Community College in Washington and West Kentucky Community and Technical College.The Aspen Institute mission is to foster values_based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues, according to its website. The institute is based in Washington, D.C., Aspen, Colo., and Maryland Eastern Shore.