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December 12, 2011 at 10:50 AM

Walla Walla Community College 1 of 5 best in U.S.

 Walla Walla Community College was named one of the top five community colleges in the nation Monday by the Aspen Institute.

The school was one of 4 “finalists with distinction” for the inaugural Aspen Prize, winning $100,000. The prize was awarded to highlight two-year colleges that do exceptional work in educating students and training them for good jobs. The top prize-winner was Valencia Community College in Florida.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler, who helped present the prize at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., Monday, said that “one of the most impressive things about this college is that they award degrees and certificates that are tied to real jobs.” Walla Walla graduates’ wages are 261 percent higher the the average wage paid to workers in the surrounding rural area, he said.

Walla Walla made the final cut because its full-time, first-year students have a college graduation and transfer rate that’s about 12 percent higher than the national average, that rate is improving, and minority students do equally as well as nonminority students, Aspen Institute officials said.

The community college has also been nimble at changing its degree offerings as the local economy has changed. Its enology (the study of winemaking) and viticulture (the study of growing grapevines for winemaking) programs have helped fuel the expansion of wineries in the Walla Walla area by teaching students how to make great wine.

And now that Walla Walla’s wines have put the town on the tourist map, the college is expanding its culinary, performing- and visual-arts programs — the kinds of entertainment that wine-tasting tourists seek out when planning a vacation, said the school’s president, Steve VanAusdle.

Comments | More in Education | Topics: community college, Walla Walla

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