Lake Area Technical Institute can boast an impressive standing among community colleges across the country.
An Aspen Institute program studying successful community colleges in the U.S. has ranked the Watertown school in the top ten. And the ranking isn’t over yet.
"We were really thrilled to be one of the 120 in April. And to be in the top ten was just beyond our wildest dreams," Lake Area president Deb Shephard said.
If it’s ranked in the top three or four from here, money could soon be on the way. There's a million dollar prize ready to distribute to the top schools.
Lake Area didn't apply to be considered initially. School data submitted to the federal government placed the school in the top 120. School leaders then applied for further review by submitting additional information. And that additional information landed them in the top ten.
That's thanks in large part to Lake Area's very high retention and job placement rates. News of the school’s ranking surprised second-year agriculture student Jared Questad.
"It did a little bit, you know,” Questad said. “But when you actually think about it and you think about how many students come back and are always happy to be back and how people get jobs when they get out of school, I think it makes sense why they'd be in this category."
The Aspen Institute hopes this annual study will bring awareness to community college education and help improve education as a whole by highlighting what successful schools are doing right.
Shephard expects this will bring awareness not only to her school but all the technical institutes in South Dakota, which she argues successfully serves a purpose.
"It affirms what we're doing and also reminds people that these schools have a mission and that is that we're focused on getting students into the job market into viable jobs that strengthen the state," Shephard said.
Representatives have already visited the Watertown campus as part of the process to trim the top ten down even more. The Aspen Institute will announce winners in December.