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$1 Million Prize Recognizes Excellence in: Learning, Degree Completion, Minority and Low-Income Student Success, and Employment and Earnings
Washington, DC, March 14, 2017 – The Aspen Institute announced today that Lake Area Technical College in Watertown, South Dakota is the winner of the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and improvement in America’s community colleges and benchmark for community college reform.
The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years since 2011, recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 public community colleges nationwide. With a singular focus on student success, the Prize process centers on a rigorous assessment of institutions’ achievements in four areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.
Lake Area Technical College President Mike Cartney exclaimed, “I am overwhelmed with emotion! In this moment, my heart and thoughts go to the great faculty, staff, and students of Lake Area Tech. Their hard work, dedication, and innovation epitomize that it is not about being the best, but doing your best. I could not be more proud of each and every one of them!” He continued, “The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence has helped Lake Area Tech identify that college is pathway, not a destination. We care about our students, and they know we care. We believe in our students, and they know we believe in them. And, we listen to our students, and they know we are listening.”
Aspen named two Florida colleges as finalists-with-distinction: Broward College (Fort Lauderdale) and Indian River State College (Fort Pierce). Two top ten finalists were recognized for their strong record of improvement with the “Rising Star” award: Odessa College (Odessa, TX) and San Jacinto College (Pasadena, TX). All four will receive $100,000 in Prize funds, while grand prize winner Lake Area Tech will receive $600,000 in Prize funds. (See full list of Top Ten Prize Finalists below and read more information about them here.)
“On every measure of community college excellence, Lake Area Technical College is firing on all cylinders,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Its outstanding graduation and job placement rates are a result of its deep commitment to ensure that all students thrive in the classroom and in great jobs after graduation. Lake Area Tech and all the Prize finalists offer lessons for community colleges across the nation—large and small, rural and urban—on how to improve student success. In the end, the Prize winning colleges provide a blueprint for student-centered reform.”
The Prize winner and finalists were announced at an event at the Newseum in Washington, DC, by Aspen Prize Jury co-chairs Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former Governor of Indiana, and former Representative George Miller (D-CA). Governor Daniels and Representative Miller lead a distinguished Prize Jury of higher education experts to select the top colleges, part of a
rigorous review process that included the examination of extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce, and equitable outcomes as well as multi-day site visits to each of the ten finalist institutions.
Community colleges today enroll more than 40% of all US undergraduates – 6 million students – working toward degrees and certificates. These include growing numbers of lower-income and minority students. While nationwide, fewer than 40% of all community college students graduate, Aspen Prize finalist institutions demonstrate that community colleges can help students achieve higher levels of success while in college and in completing a degree that leads to well-paying jobs and careers after college.
Aspen Prize Winner – Lake Area Technical College (Watertown, SD)
Recognized as a finalist-with-distinction in every one of the 4 Prize cycles since it was first announced, Lake Area Technical College has continuously improved in two key areas: teaching students both technical and professional skills needed to succeed in the workplace and closing the gap between Pell grant student graduation rates and others. Every faculty and staff member at Lake Area Tech has a single-minded focus: ensuring students succeed and are prepared for careers in good, available jobs. Its outstanding graduation/transfer rate of 74%, among the highest in the nation, is fueled by its highly structured programs of defined courses and hands-on educational approach. Lake Area Tech’s 1,900 students, most attending full-time, are guided into a technical program when they enroll and provided a clear pathway to a degree or certificate. Lake Area Tech faculty track student success from enrollment to graduation and also work with local employers to constantly refresh their exemplary programs to provide students with the skills they need to be job-ready. Regional employers invest heavily in Lake Area Tech and its students, providing equipment, scholarships, and field experiences and collaborating with instructors and hiring Lake Area Tech graduates who then go on, as employers themselves to continue the cycle.
- 74% graduation/transfer rate among highest in the nation, highest in 2017 Prize Finalist pool (compared to 39% nationally)
- 99% of graduates are employed after graduation
- 80% retention rate (compared with 52% nationally)
- On average, Lake Area Tech graduates entering the workforce earn 27% more than other new hires in its region
“At a time when the conversation could have gone many different directions, the engagement and work of the Aspen Institute, and specifically, this award shaped the national dialogue about community colleges in a powerful and positive way,” President Cartney said. “The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence highlighted the key role Community Colleges play in workforce readiness as well as continuing education. It drove the conversation towards the good things going on in community colleges across the country. One categorically undeniable fact is the direction this competition is taking all of us. Through this process, we are moving from 1100 community colleges individually striving for excellence, towards 1100 community colleges working together to help our students, to better our communities, to raise our nation. The future is not 1100 community colleges each striving to be the best, it is 1100 community colleges together doing our best.”
For more details about what distinguished the 2017 Aspen Prize Winner Lake Area Tech and Finalists-with- Distinction, as well as information and lessons learned from the all of the Prize Finalists listed below, visit here.
Broward College (Fort Lauderdale, FL) – 63,000 students
- Highly diverse student population (66 % underrepresented minorities) attain bachelor’s degree at rate 50% higher than the national average
- Virtually no gap in three-year graduation/transfer rates between all students (47%) and underrepresented minorities (46%)
Media contact: Don Cook, 954-201-7238, email@example.com
Indian River State College (Fort Pierce, FL) – 24,000 students
- Strong three-year graduation/transfer rates for all students (49%, compared to 39% nationally) and strong graduation rates for underrepresented minorities (43%, compared to 34% nationally)
- Ranked third most affordable college in the nation by US Department of Education
Media contact: Andy Treadwell, 772-462-4804, firstname.lastname@example.org
Rising Star Award Winners for rapid and dramatic improvement
Odessa College (Odessa, TX) – 7,300 students
- Dramatic increase in annual graduation/transfer rates in just five years (from 15% to 32%)
- Five years after graduating, class of 2010 graduates earned more than double the wages of all other workers in the region
- A remarkably low course withdrawal rate of 8%
Media contact: Kim McKay, 432-335-6683, email@example.com
San Jacinto College (Pasadena, TX) – 41,000 students
- Strong improvement in three-year graduation/transfer rate, from 29% to 38% in five years
- Number of credentials awarded to students rose from 38% to 51% in five years
Media contact: Amanda Fenwick, 281-998-6160, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Coon Rapids, MN)
Chaffey College (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) Northeast Community College (Norfolk, NE) Pasadena City College (Pasadena, CA)
West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY)
Previous winners of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence include: Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida (2015); co-winners Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, California and Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, Washington (2013); Valencia College in Orlando, Florida (2011 inaugural Prize winner). According to the Prize rules, former winners were not eligible to reapply this cycle.
The Aspen Prize is funded by the Joyce Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, the Siemens Foundation, and Pearson.
The Aspen College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes. Through the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the Siemens Technical Scholars Program, 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 and minority students on American campuses. For more information, visit http://highered.aspeninstitute.org/.
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.
LAKE AREA TECH EARNS TOP 3 ASPEN HONOR
Washington, DC, March 18, 2015 – The Aspen Institute announced today that Lake Area Technical College (Lake Area Tech) in Watertown, South Dakota is a Finalist-with-Distinction for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Selected from 1,123 community colleges nationwide, this is the third time Lake Area Tech has been awarded this honor along with $100,000 in Prize funds.
“Today we celebrate in the company of an esteemed group of Top 10 community colleges who work every day to improve the lives of seven million community college students nationwide,” Lake Area Tech President Mike Cartney commented. “We are extremely proud to be named a finalist with distinction for the third time in a row – the only college in history to attain that status every consecutive time. It is a tribute to our faculty, staff and leadership who strive each and every day to improve student outcomes on our campus. It’s not about being the best, it is about doing our best and the rest will follow!”
The Aspen Prize, the nation’s preeminent recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges, is awarded every two years and recognizes institutions for outstanding outcomes in four areas: student learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.
This year’s Aspen Prize winner, Santa Fe College (Gainesville, FL), will receive $800,000, while a second finalist-with-distinction, West Kentucky Community & Technical College, and the “Rising Star” recipient, Kennedy-King College (Chicago, IL), will receive $100,000 prizes. (See full list of Top Ten Prize Finalists below and read more information about them at http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/college-excellence/2015aspenprize.)
“Lake Area Tech has a graduation rate that rivals most top-tier four-year colleges,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program and author of What Excellent Community Colleges Do. “Every faculty and staff member has a single-minded focus: ensuring students succeed and are prepared for careers in good, available jobs.”
Lake Area Technical College (Lake Area Tech) has been a finalist-with-distinction each of the three years the Aspen Prize has been awarded since 2011. Its graduation/transfer rate is among the highest in the nation, fueled by its highly structured programs of defined courses and hands-on educational approach. Lake Area Tech’s 2,000 students, most attending full-time, are guided into a technical program when they enroll – based on their aptitude, goals and interests – and guided on a clear pathway to a degree or certificate. Lake Area Tech faculty track student success from start to finish and also work with local employers to build and fine-tune their exemplary workforce training programs to provide students with the exact skills they need to be job-ready. The college is part of a solid, perpetual employment loop with regional employers investing heavily in Lake Area Tech and its students, providing equipment, scholarships, and field experiences and collaborating with instructors and hiring Lake Area Tech graduates who then go on, as employers themselves to continue the cycle.
- 73% graduation/transfer rate, among highest in the nation (40% national average)
- 98% of graduates are employed or continuing their education six months after graduation
- Graduates earn 49% more than other new hires in the region
Community colleges today enroll more than 40 percent of all US undergraduates – 7 million students – working toward degrees and certificates. These include rapidly growing numbers of lower-income and minority students. While nationwide, fewer than half of all community college students graduate, Aspen Prize finalist institutions demonstrate that community colleges can help students achieve higher levels of success while in college and after they graduate.
At today’s Prize announcement event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, national and state leaders joined in celebrating the program and the accomplishments of the finalists. Speakers included Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States; Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee – the first state in the nation to offer free community college; and Aspen Prize Jury co-chairs Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University and former Governor of Indiana, and former Representative George Miller (D-CA).
“So many Americans are relying on community colleges to provide the stepping stones to a college degree and a better future,” Dr. Biden said. “Our nation’s prosperity truly depends on our higher education system delivering more high-quality degrees to an increasingly diverse group of students. This is the time for community colleges to shine, and the institutions Aspen honors today are leading by example.”
LAKE AREA TECH ‘THREE-PEATS’ AS A TOP 10 2015 ASPEN FINALIST
September 4, 2014 – Lake Area Tech staff and students celebrated President Mike Cartney’s announcement that Lake Area Tech was named – for the third time in a row – one of 10 finalists for the 2015 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence!
Lake Area Tech has earned a place on the 10 finalists’ list in each of the three years the prize has been awarded and was named a finalist-with-distinction in 2011 and 2013. The $1 million prize fund will be awarded in March 2015 in Washington, D.C. to the winner and up to four finalists-with-distinction.
“We’re strong believers that if you stay focused on your student outcomes, then recognition like this is a natural flow from that,” Lake Area Tech President Mike Cartney said. “We’re certainly in esteemed company, if you look at the other nine finalists. This is really a feather in not only Lake Area Tech’s hat, but also for the Watertown School Board, the community, and South Dakota as a whole. They all play a crucial role in the success of our students.”
The prize, awarded every two years, recognizes outstanding institutions selected from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges. With a singular focus on student success, the prize assesses community colleges’ achievements in four areas: student learning, certificate and degree completion, high rates of employment and earnings for graduates, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.
“This small town college is delivering big results,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program in Washington, D.C. “Lake Area Tech has devised a clear and compelling set of pathways for students aligned to specific available jobs. Providing high-quality instruction that combines classroom and hands-on learning, Lake Area Tech has come to be relied upon by students and employers alike to deliver excellent outcomes.”
Lake Area Tech stands out as one of the nation’s top community colleges for many reasons, including:
- 73% graduation/transfer rate—one of the highest rates among all US community colleges
- Exemplary workforce training programs in 29 different disciplines—from aviation mechanics to nursing to welding—that result in exceptional levels of employment and strong earnings
- Extensive partnerships with local businesses that result in regular, real-time assessments of and improvements in program quality
- Strong pedagogical training for instructors, many hired directly out of the industries relevant to their programs
Aspen’s Finalist Selection Committee selected the 10 finalist institutions after reviewing extensive data on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce outcomes, and equitable outcomes for all students, especially those in traditionally underserved racial/ethnic groups, and those from low-income backgrounds.
This fall, the Aspen Institute will conduct site visits to each of the 10 finalist institutions. Following a rigorous review process, a distinguished Prize Jury will select a grand prizewinner and up to four finalists-with-distinction to be announced in March 2015.
LAKE AREA TECH NAMED TOP 4 TWO-YEAR COLLEGE!
In its second national awards presentation recognizing outstanding achievement in community colleges, the Aspen Institute named Lake Area Technical College one of the 2013 Top 4 two-year colleges in the nation! Lake Area Tech also earned a finalist-with-distinction honor during the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence awards ceremony held in Washington, D.C. on March 19. For its achievement, the Aspen Institute awarded Lake Area Tech $100,000 for program support.
Lake Area Tech learned last September it was a Top 10 finalist for the prestigious award that’s based on outstanding achievement in four areas: student learning outcomes, degree completion, labor market success in securing good jobs after school, and facilitating minority and low-income student success.
Lake Area Tech President Deb Shephard and Vice-President Michael Cartney represented the school at the presentation. President Shephard said the award is a great honor that comes with responsibility.
“The award is a nice accolade and it keeps the pressure on us,” she said. “When we get this kind of recognition, we want to keep the momentum going and we don’t want to let anyone down. Students are going to expect more from us when they come to Lake Area Tech because of this award so we’ve got to deliver.”
The Aspen Institute recognized that three of every four full-time students who begin at Lake Area Tech graduate or transfer within three years – a rate among the highest of any community college in the nation. Lake Area Tech was recognized during the selection process for high achievements including:
- 76% of first-time, full-time students graduate or transfer to four-year colleges within three years, compared with the national average of 40%.
- Recent graduates earn 40% more on average than other new hires in the area.
- 41% of first-time, full-time students receive Pell grants, the main federal financial aid program for students.
“From the moment students enroll, Lake Area Technical College is structured so that students have a great chance of both completing their degrees and gaining the hands-on skills needed to land a good job,” said Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “With clear, rigorous programs aligned to available jobs, Lake Area Tech shows the way to not just high graduation rates, but degrees with high value for both students and employers alike.
President Shephard acknowledged the award is the result of a collective effort among many groups of people. “This award is not just for Lake Area Tech staff and students,” she said. “It’s for so many patrons starting with the Watertown School District administration, all of our business partners, state government, and the community. We’ve been building on this for decades.”
Lake Area Tech shares the finalist-with-distinction honor with Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, NY. The co-winners of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence are Walla Walla Community College in Walla Walla, WA and Santa Barbara City College in Santa Barbara, CA.
LAKE AREA TECH REPEATS AS TOP 10 ASPEN FINALIST
September 5, 2012 – Lake Area Tech students learned today that – for the second year in a row – their school is one of the top 10 finalists for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges! Aspen officials released the 10 finalists today, chosen from an original pool of more than 1,000 community colleges. The Prize recognizes the most outstanding institutions for achievements in four areas: student learning outcomes, degree and college completion, labor market success in students securing jobs after college, and minority and low-income student success.
“Lake Area Technical College not only leads the nation in graduation rates, but is also remarkably successful at connecting its graduates to competitive-wage jobs,” said Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program. “Lake Area Tech is delivering success to students and the community, listening to what the labor market is saying and arming its students with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace, and that’s good for everyone’s bottom line.”
Lake Area Tech joins three other top tech schools repeating as top 10 finalists including Santa Barbara City College, Santa Barbara, CA; Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla, WA; and West Kentucky Community and Technical College, Paducah, KY. Our hat goes off to those institutions as well as the six other community colleges selected as first-time finalists. Check back to our site often for updates throughout the selection process. The $1 million Prize will be awarded to the winner and up to four finalists with distinction in March of 2013 in Washington, D.C.
Lake Area Tech was named as a Top Five Finalist with Distinction for the first Aspen Prize in 2011. Below is the history of Lake Area Tech’s journey on the road to the Aspen Prize.
TOP FIVE IN THE NATION – ASPEN PRIZE
Want to say you attended one of the best two-year schools in the nation? On December 12, 2011 Lake Area Tech was named among the TOP FIVE of two-year schools in the NATION by the Aspen Institute’s Community College Excellence program! That’s definite proof you learned from the best!
What does it take to be TOP FIVE?
Lake Area Tech has been recognized for big-time student success. Our graduation rate is almost twice the national average, our programs lead immediately to real employment, and our graduates earn 22% more than other new hires in the regional labor market.
That’s right. In a first-ever effort to recognize the best-performing two-year colleges in the nation, Lake Area Tech has emerged shining. The Aspen Prize competition – first unveiled at the White House Community College Summit in October 2010 – included a year-long, rigorous review of 1,200 U.S. two year colleges by the Aspen Institute. Aspen was looking for elements that “all U.S. community colleges should seek to emulate”; specifically a high bar for learning, a focus on college completion, and real attention to preparing students for 21st century jobs. After research, data collection and a campus visit from the Aspen Institute’s finalist committee, Lake Area Tech placed in the top five of the original 1,200 two year colleges!
Lake Area Tech President Accepts Award at Announcement Ceremony in Washington, DC
Check out what the experts are saying about Lake Area Tech (below):
Lake Area Tech is “blazing a trail of prosperity for students” (White House Blog)
Through their Aspen applications, Lake Area Technical College (Watertown, SD), Miami Dade College (Miami, FL), Walla Walla Community College (Walla Walla, WA), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY) all demonstrated bold commitment to results in preparing students for academic and professional success…
Lake Area Tech has “exemplary workforce training” (The Aspen Institute)
Thanks to aggressive grant-seeking and the school’s strong business partnerships, students learn on state-of-the-art equipment: the only truck chassis dynamometer at a South Dakota school; new John Deere tractors each year; a cadaver lab funded by a local hospital. Even the campus itself is a cutting edge tool, fitted with water control features that environmental technology students use as a learning lab…
Lake Area Tech “programs link directly to jobs” (Executive Director Josh Wyner)
Lake Area Tech is providing students with the skills they need- the hands on learning they need, to make sure that when they graduate- employers are going to be lining up to hire them, and give them jobs with good wages and benefits…
Lake Area Tech “makes it happen”(Scott Lawler, 3M)
Colleges across the country have a lot to learn from the Lake Area structure and work with employers. Scott Lawler, a manager with 3M in Brookings, is one of those employers. He spoke at Monday’s award ceremony. With 3M plants in Aberdeen, New Ulm, Minn.; and Hutchinson, Minn.; Lawler said competition for Lake Area graduates is intense.
“My peers fight for the kids out of Lake Area because they are so good,” Lawler said. “The thing is, Lake Area listens to the kids. They listen to the business world and ask, ‘How can we fit in?’ Then they make it happen.”…
Lake Area Tech is “far above the norm” (The Chronicle)
The best community colleges, they found, were unusually focused and intentional when it came to structuring the learning experience. Large or small, the top two-years didn’t just offer courses and wait for students to sign up. Lake Area Technical College, in South Dakota, for example, has 27 technical programs, each with a defined curriculum. Sixty-six percent of its students graduate within three years…