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Dr. Pharr Selected for Aspen Institute Fellowship

New Leaders of Colleges Educating a Half-Million Students Tapped to Participate in Comprehensive Program to Advance Student Success

Dr. Maria Pharr headshotDr. Maria Pharr, President of South Piedmont Community College has been selected by the Aspen Institute to join the 2020-21 inaugural class of the Aspen New Presidents Fellowship, a new initiative designed to support community college presidents in the early years of their tenure to accelerate transformational change on behalf of students.

Dr. Pharr is one of 25 Aspen Fellows selected from more than 100 applicants for this opportunity, which is fully funded by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and run by the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. The leaders, all of whom are in their first five years as a college president, will engage in a seven-month fellowship beginning in June 2020.

“I am honored to be chosen for this fellowship but individual achievement doesn’t motivate me. Making an impact motivates me,” said Dr. Pharr. “I hope to gain insight from thought leaders across the nation so that we can craft the best vision for the college.”

The fellows, who have been college presidents for five years or less, were selected for their commitment to student success and equity, willingness to take risks to improve outcomes, understanding of the importance of community partnerships, and ability to lead change.

“In reference to taking risks, when you put the students at the center of your thinking, it’s going to be the right decision,” said Dr. Pharr.

“We know more than ever before about how community colleges can improve outcomes for students, both in and after college,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “And the urgency for them to do so only increases—especially for students of color and low-income students. These fellows have shown they are fully, urgently committed to excellence and equity, and we look forward to working alongside them.”

Nearly 80 percent of community college presidents nationwide plan to retire in the next decade. Through this fellowship and its other leadership programs, Aspen is committed to helping to replace those exiting the presidency with an exceptionally capable and highly diverse talent pool. According to the American Council on Education, only 36 percent of community college presidents are female, and 20 percent are people of color. The incoming class of Aspen fellows is 48 percent female, and 40 percent are people of color. Their institutions span 15 states and vary widely, from a rural college with fewer than 2,000 students to a statewide system that educates more than 150,000.

“By preparing students and workers for in-demand jobs and meeting the training needs of businesses, community colleges are critical institutions for their regions’ prosperity and development,” said Jennie Sparandara, head of workforce initiatives, JPMorgan Chase. “JPMorgan Chase is proud to partner with the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program to build the next generation of diverse community college leaders.”

The program for new presidents is an addition to the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, which has been serving aspiring presidents since 2016. Of the nearly 160 fellows who have taken part in the Rising Presidents Fellowship, 41 are now community college presidents, serving more than 500,000 students.

JPMorgan Chase is funding the Aspen Presidential Fellowship as part of New Skills at Work, a five-year, $350 million investment to support community colleges and other pathways to great careers and economic mobility.

For a bio and photo of Dr. Pharr and a list of the 2020-21 class of Aspen Presidential Fellows, visit: https://highered.aspeninstitute.org/meet-the-aspen-presidential-fellows-new-presidents/


The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices and leadership strategies that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence, 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 students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit highered.aspeninstitute.org and follow us on Twitter at @AspenHigherEd.

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is a leading global financial services firm with assets of $2.6 trillion and operations worldwide. The Firm is a leader in investment banking, financial services for consumers and small businesses, commercial banking, financial transaction processing, and asset management. A component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, JPMorgan Chase & Co. serves millions of customers in the United States and many of the world’s most prominent corporate, institutional and government clients under its J.P. Morgan and Chase brands. Information about JPMorgan Chase & Co. is available at www.jpmorganchase.com.