Tiny SD College Captures Aspen Prize
Lake Area Technical Institute Named Nation’s Top College
nearly capturing the nation’s top prize for community colleges three consecutive
times, Lake Area Technical Institute finally claimed it, winning the 2017 Aspen
Prize for Community College Excellence.
tiny school in Watertown, S.D. — it enrolls just 1,900 students, most of them
enrolled full-time — was praised for continuous improvement in two key areas:
teaching students both technical and professional skills needed to succeed in
the workplace, and closing the gap between the graduation rates of Pell Grant recipients
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. “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. LATI 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.”
winning the prize, LATI receives $600,000 of a $1 million prize pool.
Aspen Prize, awarded every two years since 2011, recognizes outstanding community
colleges. The winner was selected from an original pool of more than 1,000
public community colleges nationwide. The prize assesses colleges in four
areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings;
and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students.
Aspen named two Florida colleges as finalists-with-distinction: Broward College and Indian River State College. Two Texas colleges were cited for their strong record of improvement and received the “Rising Star” award: Odessa College and San Jacinto College. Each of those colleges will receive $100,000 in prize funds.
LATI three times was named a finalist-with-distinction before breaking through with the top award this year.The college held a watch party at the college’s Student Center, drawing students, administrators, staff and community members, according to the Watertown (S.D.) Public Opinion. Watch party attendees looked on quietly as the field was narrowed. They erupted in applause when the winner was announced.
awards were handed out at an event at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., by Aspen
Prize Jury co-chairs Mitch Daniels, president of Purdue University, and former U.S.
Rep. George Miller. Daniels and Miller led a Prize Jury made up of higher
education experts. Their review process included examination of extensive data
on performance and improvements in learning, graduation, workforce, and
equitable outcomes. The jury visited each of the ten finalist institutions.
jury found that LATI has a single-minded focus on ensuring that students
succeed and are prepared for careers in good, available jobs. The college was
praised for its highly structured programs of defined courses and hands-on
educational approach, giving students a clear pathway to completion and
• LATI has a 74 percent graduation/transfer
rate, highest in 2017 Prize Finalist pool. It compares to 39 percent nationally.
percent of graduates are employed after graduation.
• The college has an 80 percent retention
rate, compared to 52 percent nationally.
On average, LATI graduates entering the workforce earn 27 percent more than
other new hires in its region.
Previous winners of the Aspen Prize include: Santa Fe College (Fla.) in 2015; co-winners Santa Barbara City College (Calif.) and Walla Walla Community College (Wash.); Valencia College (Fla.) in 2011. Under Prize rules, former winners were not eligible to reapply this cycle.