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The Case for Community College


The Joyce Foundation is a proud sponsor and original funder of the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. The following is an excerpt from a TIME article published on June 1, 2017, featuring Lake Area Technical Institute - the 2017 Aspen Prize Winner.

Riley Anderson was a C student in high school, bored by the work and driven partly by a desire to stay on the football team. In 2015, he graduated 25th in his class--of 31 students.

Without a particular career in mind, Anderson enrolled at Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, S.D., a relatively inexpensive two-year college 30 minutes from his home. There, his classrooms were hangar-size spaces filled with wind turbines, solar panels, ethanol distillers and miniature hydroelectric dams. It seemed more like his dad's garage, where Anderson would spend hours tinkering with his 1971 Chevrolet pickup truck, than a place to learn math. But trigonometry began making sense when you used it to fit together piping systems. Basic computer code seemed worth learning when you could program an assembly-line robot.

The former C student soon started making straight A's. He graduated in May with a 4.0 GPA and, most important, a job lined up. Two years after squeaking by in high school, Anderson is set to become a maintenance technician at 3M. His annual starting salary is $60,000. The South Dakota median is a little over $53,000.

LATI is a model for the growing number of politicians, CEOs and academics who believe that community colleges have the potential to become much needed engines of economic and social mobility. Last year, 99% of its students entered the workforce or went on to four-year colleges. The school has an 83% retention rate, well above the national community-college average of about 50%, and few instances of students' defaulting on their loans. The evolving curriculum is designed with input from more than 300 regional businesses, and starting salaries for LATI alumni average 27% more than those of other new hires in the region. All of this has led the college, with a student body of almost 2,500, to 14 consecutive years of growing enrollment. Officials originally projected that LATI would reach its current size in 2040.

Read the full article here.