Walla Walla Community College was honored Tuesday for its excellence. WWCC and Santa Barbara City College were judged to be the top two-year schools in the country.
The schools will split a first-place $800,000 award for the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
It’s special when a school or organization is named the best at its mission in a field of 50 to 100, but the field for this award was far larger. There are 1,655 two-year schools in the nation. The Aspen Institute started with a pool of more than 1,000 schools and narrowed it to a top 10.
Winning this award is simply amazing. It’s not, however, unbelievable as WWCC has been near the summit before. In 2011, the school was a top-five finisher. No prize was given in 2012, although it was announced WWCC was a top-10 finalist for this year’s prize.
WWCC separated itself from the field for its record of work force training, and preparing students with skills necessary for emerging workforce demands. Its enology and viticulture, water management and wind technology programs were named specifically as innovative in training students for careers currently in high demand.
In addition, WWCC helps students in danger of dropping out. It manages its course offerings carefully — cutting back on courses and programs that aren’t leading to high-paying jobs and boosting the size of those that do.
It was noted by the Aspen Institute that about 54 percent of WWCC’s first-time, full-time students transfer or graduate within three years. The national average is 40 percent. WWCC’s graduates in 2011 earned an average of $41,548, which is about 80 percent higher than other local workers who were newly hired.
“I also see it as a great tribute to the students, faculty and staff of Walla Walla Community College,” said college President Steve VanAusdle said. “We couldn’t have done it without all the partners in the communities we serve.”
Over the years we have seen WWCC, under VanAusdle’s steady leadership, grow into a spectacular institution of higher education. Not only are WWCC officials skilled at figuring out what occupations will be in demand and then designing programs to meet those needs, but WWCC also serves a wide cross section of the community. WWCC essentially does it all.
Walla Walla Community College is well deserving of this honor. It’s faculity, staff, students and administrators are doing outstanding work.