Get a degree from this award-winning technical college in South Dakota and you’ll almost certainly find a job after graduation.
The Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, South Dakota, is earning high marks for its sky-high job placement rate: 99 percent of graduates have jobs or are continuing their education after they earn an associate’s degree from the school. The school’s president said the majority of those graduates are working.
Lake Area Tech was recently named the top community college in the country by the Aspen Institute, a prize that awards high graduation and job placement rates, alumni earnings and the success of low-income and minority students at the school. Lake Area Tech gets $600,00 for being the grand prize winner.
“We define success as placement. Graduation is a step along the way,” President Michael Cartney told CNNMoney.
Lake Area Tech has an impressive graduation rate, too. Nearly 74 percent of students who start taking classes at the school graduate or transfer, compared to 39 percent nationally.
The school is known for giving students relevant, hands-on experience and for being super affordable—the nursing program, for example, costs just $12,000 for the entire 11-month program
Not only do students land jobs after graduation, they land high-paying ones. Students who graduate from the school’s energy technology and operation programs have starting salaries that are higher than South Dakota’s $50,000 median income.
Some of Lake Area Tech’s 2,000 students already have bachelor’s degrees, but couldn’t find work or weren’t satisfied with their career path. They decided to go back to school to learn new job skills.
“Students now realize that a tech school isn’t a lesser education. It’s more hands-on and it’s rigorous,” Cartney said.
The Aspen Prize, which is awarded every two years to a winner and several finalists, aims to increase awareness and understanding about community colleges, which are typically much more affordable than four-year colleges and often result in job placement for students.
There are more than 13 million people taking classes at 1,000 community colleges across the country, according the institute.