Walla Walla Community College has received significant state and national attention after being named one of the top five community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute.
PBS NewsHour and the National Journal featured the enology and viticulture program’s impact on our emerging hospitality industry. Programs at the William A. Grant Water and Environmental Center have been recognized for helping create a stronger economy and a healthier environment.
Our energy systems program focusing on renewable energy sources has grown faster than initially expected and is developing a reputation for placing students holding certificates and degrees in very good jobs.
While these programs merit the recognition received, we earned the designation by the Aspen Institute as one of the best due to the success of all our work force programs, a high quality academic transfer program and an effective transitional education program that provides underprepared students a shot at the American Dream.
The pathway to completion of a certificate or degree is very challenging for many of our students due to academic rigor, rising costs, and family and job responsibilities.
Yet, our dedicated faculty and staff inspire and coach our students to an extraordinarily high level of success. They are dedicated to helping our students finish what they start.
How do we define success and how do we compare to our peer community and technical colleges?
The Aspen Institute defined success by using four outcome measures. Its findings for WWCC were:
•Within three years of entering, more than half of our full-time students graduate or transfer (53 percent compared to 39 percent U.S. average).
•Washington state records show that our 2010 graduates earned more than twice the wages of other new hires in the area ($54,756 compared to $20,904).
A recent employment and earnings survey shows that 2006 graduates are earning an annual wage of $57,069 in 2012 which is approximately 225 percent of new hire wages of non-graduates in our district.
Annual average wages for these graduates eclipse the average wage earned in Washington state by 14 percent.
•WWCC makes sure that what students learn has value when they graduate, using sophisticated labor market data to tie degree programs to future labor market needs.
•Underrepresented minorities at WWCC succeed at rates well above the national average (42 percent compared to 33 percent U.S. average).
WWCC maintains a good record of achievement in spite of painful budget cuts and significant tuition increases.
Yet we must do better. Our country and state face an educational attainment crisis and a growing skills gap that stifles productivity, resulting in a loss of jobs, lower wages and a lower standard of living.
WWCC strives to improve its productivity by containing costs and improving outcomes yet we all must do more. As a state and nation we must invest more in a skilled work force now. If we don’t, the American Dream will become a nightmare for the individuals we leave behind.
Remember, when it comes to the health of our economy, we are all enrolled in the fate of our educational system.
Steve VanAusdle is president of Walla Walla Community College.