Lake Area Technical Institute Recognized for Excellence in Student Outcomes by Aspen Institute

Located on the eastern edge of South Dakota, close to the border with Minnesota, sits a small community college making a big impact on students’ lives and the education sector.


Located on the eastern edge of South Dakota, close to the border with Minnesota,
sits a small community college making a big impact on
students’ lives and the education sector.


Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) is the oldest technical school in South Dakota. Founded in 1965, the school is making a name for itself in the education community.

Across the board, LATI has impressive statistics. The graduation rate is 74 percent with an astonishing 80 percent retention rate. These numbers, combined with the fact that three-fourths of students also work full- or part-time while in school, is almost unheard of at a time when fewer than 40 percent of community college students nationwide graduate.

President Barack Obama praised LATI for its great track record during his commencement address at the college in 2015. And earlier this week, LATI was awarded the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s preeminent recognition for outstanding achievement and improvement in the nation’s community colleges.


LATI has been recognized as a finalist-with-distinction for the
Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in every one
of the Prize cycles since it was first awarded in 2011.


LATI has been recognized as a finalist-with-distinction for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence in every one of the Prize cycles since it was first awarded in 2011. It’s continuous improvement in learning outcomes and closing the gap between Pell grant student graduation rates and others.

“This is a college that’s firing on all cylinders now,” said Joshua Wyner, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “They have really strong learning outcomes. They have closed equity gaps, they are delivering among the nation’s best graduation and labor market outcomes.”

Meeting a Need

Of the students who graduate from LATI, 81 percent stay to live and work in South Dakota. This is largely due to the school’s partnership with its local economy and dedication to continually ensuring degree programs are aligned to the skills employers are saying they need.

“What [LATI] decided they should do is really closely align to the labor market,” Wyner said. “Their relationships with employers are so strong, they’re constantly refreshing the education they provide…so it remains aligned to a rapidly changing labor market.”

LATI has also made big strides in closing equality gaps for its students. In recent years, the graduation rate for Pell eligible students compared to that of non-Pell eligible students has been cut in half. In a school where more than half of the student body is classified as low-income, graduation and placement rates like this speak to a greater trend of upward mobility for alumni.

“What Lake Area Tech does and the advances they’ve made are really remarkable,” Wyner said.


“What Lake Area Tech does and the advances they’ve made are really remarkable.”


The Rest of the Field

In addition to LATI taking home the top award for the Aspen Prize, four other finalists also received special recognition for their dedication to improving student outcomes:

-Indian River State College, Fort Pierce, Florida, Finalist with Distinction

-Broward College, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Finalist with Distinction

-Odessa College, Odessa, Texas, Rising Star for Rapid Student Improvement

-San Jacinto College, Pasadena, Texas, Rising Star for Rapid Student Improvement

The remaining 2017 Top Ten Aspen Prize Finalists include the following community colleges:

-Anoka-Ramsey Community College (Coon Rapids, MN)

-Chaffey College (Rancho Cucamonga, CA)

-Northeast Community College (Norfolk, NE)

-Pasadena City College (Pasadena, CA)

-West Kentucky Community and Technical College (Paducah, KY)