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What makes a community college successful?

John Tulenko of the PBS program Learning Matters recently interviewed Josh Wyner, Executive Director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute, to talk about the growing importance of community colleges in U.S. education. The Aspen Institute awards $1 million grants to community colleges that have high on-time completion rates.

Wyner began the interview by discussing community college completion rates. Currently, only 30 percent of community college students earn a certificate or degree while 10 percent move on to a four year university. One of the colleges that the Aspen Institute highlights is Walla Walla Community College, which monitors students to make sure they remain on track. Wyner notes that monitoring students is very important because community college students are different from four year college students, and it’s easier for them to get off track. Colleges offer a lot of course choice, and the perception is that students will figure it out along the way. Wyner states, “The challenge is that most community college students are working. [It makes it harder for them to make] the right choices.”

Another community college that Wyner points to is Lake Area Technical Institute in South Dakota. Lake Area Tech offers 27 defined programs. This means that if a student selects a program, such as nursing, they already know all the classes they need to take in order to complete the program, leaving little room for straying. Wyner explains that when it comes to classes, “the idea is that students don’t have to guess when to take it, or what to take.” According to Wyner, the idea of students picking and choosing classes to “find themselves” is from a bygone era. Lake Area Tech has a 76 percent graduation rate.

Wyner also talks to John Tulenko about finding gainful employment after completing college. Wyner says that one of the advantages of community college is their nimbleness and flexibility. For example at Walla Walla Community College developed their wine program after looking at employment data and talking to employers and finding that the Walla Walla’s burgeoning wine industry hires more people than agriculture industry, which used to be the college’s focus.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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