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South Dakota school wins 2017 Aspen Prize as top community college

March 15, 2017
Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D., receives a $1 million prize from The Aspen Institute.

Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D., has won the 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.

The prize, awarded by the Aspen Institute, 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.

"My heart and thoughts go to the great faculty, staff, and students of Lake Area Tech," says Lake Area Tech President Mike Cartney. "Their hard work, dedication, and innovation epitomize that it is not about being the best, but doing your best....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."

The $1 million Aspen Prize has been awarded every two years since 2011. It recognizes outstanding institutions selected from a pool of more than 1,000 public community colleges nationwide.

The Aspen Institute says that Lake Area Technical Institute has shown continual improvement 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.

Among the student outcomes cited in awarding the Aspen Prize to Lake Area Tech:

  • 74 percent graduation/transfer rate, which is among highest in the nation (compared with 39 percent nationally)
  • 99 percent of graduates are employed after graduation
  • 80 percent retention rate (compared with 52 percent nationally)
  • On average, Lake Area Tech graduates entering the workforce earn 27 percent more than other new hires in its region.

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