WALLA WALLA -- For the second year in a row, Walla Walla Community College has been named one of the top 10 community colleges in the nation by the Aspen Institute. The recognition puts the college in the running for a share of $1 million in cash prizes to be awarded to the top five colleges in March.
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues, according to its website.
The Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence was established in 2011 to recognize achievement at the nation's best community colleges.
The 2011 award went to Valencia Community College in Orlando, Fla., with Walla Walla Community College included as one of four finalists with distinction. Valencia received a $600,000 cash prize, while each of the four finalists got $100,000.
WWCC President Steve VanAusdle said the college used about half its award for financial aid to students. Part of the money went to training and other efforts that support student success, he said.
"It is all about student success, and investing in strategies that help us do a better job in helping students finish what they start," he said.
VanAusdle said his college's completion rates, and rates of students going on to four-year colleges is what has helped it stand out for the second year in a row. Walla Walla has a higher completion rate for degrees and transfers compared to other community and technical colleges.
Programs developed to support successful employment after graduation also set Walla Walla apart.
"They commended us for the relationship between our Workforce training programs and labor market needs. We've aligned that over the years," VanAusdle said.
VanAusdle said graduates of the college's Workforce programs earn more than twice what hires without community college degrees earn in the region. The college's more than 30 Workforce training programs include its nursing, enology and viticulture, wind technology and diesel programs.
"The thing that got us in the top 10 is good outcomes," VanAusdle said. "After we were fortunate to make it into the top five, we want to be number one."
Walla Walla is one of three colleges that were in the top five last year that are again in the running to be the top in the nation. The other colleges are West Kentucky Community and Technical College and Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D.
Other colleges named to the top 10 this year are:
- Brazosport College in Lake Jackson, Texas
- Broward College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
- College of the Ouachitas in Malvern, Ark.
- Kingsborough Community College -- CUNY, Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Santa Barbara (Calif.) City College.
- Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla.
- Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Cumberland.
The 2013 Aspen Prize winner will be named in March.