The excellence of West Kentucky Community and Technical College was affirmed again last week. The college finished in the top 10 in the biennial Aspen Prize selections.
WKCTC has finished in the top 10 in every review since the Aspen Prize was established in 2011. Only one other community college in the nation has matched that and it turned out to be this year's winner: Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota.
There was a hint of disappointment among the local crowd that gathered to watch the Aspen Prize announcement when WKCTC wound up 10th. The college has placed in the top five twice previously, including a third-place finish in 2015 that garnered a $100,000 award.
But we should keep this in perspective. More than 1,100 colleges compete for the Aspen Prize nationally. WKCTC has finished in the top one-tenth of 1 percent among those colleges every single time. And as WKCTC President Anton Reece correctly notes, the differential separating first from tenth is minute.
The Aspen Prize is the nation's preeminent measure of community college excellence. We believe the reason is that it measures the right things. It recognizes outstanding outcomes in four areas: student learning, rate of certificate and degree completion, employment and earnings, and success for minority and low-income students.
We note as an aside how closely those points of emphasis track the new outcomes-based college funding program passed by the Kentucky General Assembly earlier this month. We think it bodes well for WKCTC in the future.
WKCTC has been specifically recognized by the Aspen Institute for the percentage of its students who graduate with a certificate and/or go on to pursue at least a four-year degree. Forty-seven percent of its students did so in the current look-back period versus a national average of 39 percent.
The institute also lauded WKCTC's effective use of data to improve student learning and its "exceptional faculty professional development to improve teaching and learning." It says WKCTC "is defined by a culture of reflective practice and continuous improvement in teaching and learning. College leaders work extensively with K-12 schools and employers to improve opportunity for students by strengthening the economy and civic life in the surrounding community."
Former California Congressman George Miller, who serves as co-chair of the Aspen Prize jury, makes an important point when he says, "Very often we ask community colleges to be the rapid response team when things go to hell in the country. When the economy dies, people need new skills, new training, and this is the institution that responds."
Miller says WKCTC has filled this role well: "As thousands of jobs have left the region, (WKCTC) has been a primary player in efforts to expand economic growth and provide high-tech customized training opportunities for growth areas such as marine technology, logistics and operations management."
Sometimes it is easy to take success for granted. In the case of WKCTC, we would be remiss to do so. WKCTC is unique in its excellence. The Paducah region is extremely fortunate to have such an asset. We thank the college's administration, faculty and students for continuing to strive to be the best.