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2017 Aspen Prize awarded to Lake Area Technical Institute


Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, South Dakota was named today as 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. LATI will receive $600,000 in Prize funds.

Two Florida colleges were named 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. (See full list of Top Ten Prize Finalists below and read more information about them at

The $1 million Aspen Prize, awarded every two years since 2011 by The Aspen Institute, 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.

The Aspen Prize is funded by The Kresge Foundation in partnership with the Joyce Foundation, the Siemens Foundation, and Pearson.

“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. “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.”

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 percent of all US undergraduates – 6 million students – working toward degrees and certificates. These include growing numbers of lower-income and minority students.

“Across the nation, community colleges struggle to help students finish what they’ve started and walk away with a degree,” says Kresge’s Deputy Director, Education Caroline Altman Smith. “Each year, the institutions recognized through the Aspen Prize beat the curve. They show the field what’s possible when an institution and its faculty prioritize student success. Kresge partners with the Aspen Institute because we want to raise the profile of and reward those schools that are improving graduation rates and truly bettering the lives of their students.”

Recognized as a finalist-with-distinction in every one of the four Prize cycles, 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.

Student outcomes include:

  • 74 percent graduation/transfer rate, which is among highest in the nation and was the highest in 2017 Prize Finalist pool (compared to 39 percent nationally)
  • 99 percent of graduates are employed after graduation
  • 80 percent retention rate (compared with 52 percent nationally)
  • On average, LATI graduates entering the workforce earn 27 percent more than other new hires in its region

For more details about what distinguished the 2017 Aspen Prize Winner LATI and Finalists-with-Distinction, as well as information and lessons learned from the all of the Prize Finalists, visit