Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, South Dakota has won the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and improvement among community colleges. The Prize recognizes institutions for exceptional outcomes in four areas: learning, certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. Improving community colleges is a vital national priority. By lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize aims to increase student success, stimulate innovation, and create benchmarks for measuring progress.
“We’ve learned a lot along the way. The light the Aspen Institute shines on what we do allowed us to see not only where we are going, but the bumps that are in the way that we need to take care of. We walk away from this a better school, able to do more for our students,” said Lake Area Technical Institute President Mark Carney.
LATI was selected from an original pool of over 1,000 public community colleges nationwide. The school has been recognized as a finalist-with-distinction in every one of the four Prize cycles since it was first announced in 2011. Since then LATI 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.
Most of LATI’s 1,900 students attend the school full-time. They are guided into a technical program when they enroll and provided a clear pathway to a degree or certificate. The school’s 74 percent graduation rate is among the highest in the nation. Faculty track student success from enrollment to graduation and work with local employers to ensure that their programs provide students with the skills they need. In fact, 99 percent of graduates are employed after graduation and those entering the workforce currently earn 27 percent more than other new hires in the region.
“On every measure of community college excellence, Lake Area Technical Institute is firing on all cylinders,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “LATI and all Prize finalists offer lessons for community colleges across the nation—large and small, rural and urban—on how to improve student success.”
The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years since 2011, recognizes five outstanding institutions. In addition to LATI, two Florida colleges were recognized as finalists-with-distinction: Broward College in Fort Lauderdale and Indian River State College in Fort Pierce. Two top ten finalists from Texas were recognized for their strong record of improvement with the “Rising Star” award: Odessa College in Odessa and San Jacinto College in Pasadena. All four will receive $100,000 in Prize funds, while grand prize winner LATI will receive $600,000. The Aspen Prize is supported by the Joyce Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, the Siemens Foundation, and Pearson.