Goodland, KS. November 8, 2021 – Northwest Tech has officially launched the newest advanced manufacturing lab in Kansas higher education following a ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 8th. Members of the community joined legislators, representatives from the Kansas Department of Commerce, industry employers, Goodland Ambassadors, and members of the college to unveil the latest addition to the Engineering Technology program.
The new lab was funded through the recent award of a Kansas Department of Commerce Higher Education Advanced Manufacturing & Information Technology Equipment grant for $500,000 focused on expanding advanced manufacturing opportunities around the state. Regionally, the Dane G. Hansen Foundation provided an additional $100,000 for renovations to the existing facility to accommodate the new lab.
WASHINGTON, D.C., November 2, 2021 — Today, the Aspen Institute named Northwest Kansas Technical College one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation's signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America's community colleges. The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.
The 150 eligible colleges have been invited to submit data and narratives as the next steps in an intensive data and practice review process, culminating in the announcement of the Prize winner in spring 2023.
“We are honored to be recognized by the Aspen Institute for the efforts of our faculty and staff to improve the success and outcomes of our students,” said Northwest Tech President Ben Schears. “We are blessed to be a small campus where we get to know our students on a personal basis and can work to remove roadblocks to success.”
The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to elevate the sector, drive attention to colleges doing the best work, and discover and share highly effective student success and equity strategies. Since 2010, Aspen has chosen to focus intensively on community colleges because they are—as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated at the 2021 Aspen Prize ceremony—“a powerful engine of prosperity.”
But student outcomes vary enormously among community colleges, and improving those outcomes is essential to securing our nation’s economic future, strengthening communities, and ensuring that diverse populations experience economic mobility and prosperity. With these goals in mind, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there. They are committed to ensuring that all students—including students of color and those from low-income backgrounds—graduate with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university. That same commitment that stands at the center of the Aspen Prize: to advance the goals of social mobility and equitable talent development.”
The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 34 states, these colleges serve as few as 230 students and as many as 57,000. Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns—including Lake Area Technical Institute (SD, 2017 Prize winner) and Walla Walla Community College (WA, 2013)—to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including Miami Dade College (FL, 2019) and San Antonio College (TX, 2021).
The four other previous winners are Indian River State College (FL, 2019); Santa Fe College (FL, 2015); Santa Barbara City College (CA, 2013); and Valencia College (FL, 2011).
In this first round, eligibility for the Aspen Prize is based on publicly available data. Eligible colleges must show strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer, and equity. Nationwide, 15 percent of community colleges (150 of the approximately 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide assessed for the Prize) have been invited to apply—the full list can be accessed on the Prize homepage.
The next steps in the process include:
- Selection of the top ten finalists by an expert panel of 15 experts in community colleges, higher education, and workforce training, to be announced in spring/summer 2022
- Fall 2022 site visits to each of the ten finalists, during which the Aspen Institute and partners will collect additional information, including employment and earnings data and insights about promising practices
- A distinguished jury will meet and make award decisions in the first quarter of early 2023
- Announcement of the Aspen Prize in late spring 2023
For a full list of the top 150 eligible institutions and to read more on the selection process, visit www.highered.aspeninstitute.org/aspen-prize.
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The Aspen Prize is generously funded by Ascendium and the Joyce Foundation.
The Aspen Institute College Excellence Program aims to advance higher education practices, policies, and leadership that significantly improve student outcomes, especially for the growing population of low-income students and students of color on American campuses. For more information, visit www.highered.aspeninstitute.org and www.linkedin.com/showcase/aspenhighered, and follow @AspenHigherEd on Twitter. The Aspen Prize hashtag is #AspenPrize.
The Aspen Institute is a community-serving organization with global reach whose vision is a free, just, and equitable society. For 70 years, the Institute has driven change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the world’s greatest challenges. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the Institute has offices in Aspen, Colorado, and New York City, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org.
Through the generosity of the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, the Northwest Tech Endowment Association has received a matching grant opportunity for the next three years. The college will be fundraising $150,000 per year in permanently endowed funds, with each contribution being matched dollar-for-dollar by the Hansen Foundation until the yearly goal has been reached....(Read more)
The Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference (KJCCC) Executive Committee has a new president for the 2021-2022 academic year. Ben Schears, President of Northwest Tech, began his term during the conference’s annual summer meeting in Garden City in July. "I've had the joy of working around the Jayhawk Conference for the entire duration of my career in some form or fashion and have no hesitation in saying we are in the top JUCO conference in the country," said Schears. "The success of the conference is largely due to the efforts of our past and present conference commissioners and colleges working together to create an environment where students can be successful in the classroom and competition."
As it’s more commonly known, the Jayhawk Conference itself has a long-standing and successful legacy of competition dating back to its founding in 1923. As the conference approaches its centennial anniversary, one of the areas where there has been incredible continuity and stability is in the role of the Conference Commissioner. To date, there have been only eight individuals who have served in this role, and since 2018 that has been Commissioner Carl Heinrich. “It has been an honor for me to serve the 21 schools of the KJCCC,” said Heinrich. “The success of the conference over the years has been due to the presidential leadership of all our schools. The opportunity for our student athletes to get a quality education and an opportunity to continue in sports has been what the KJCCC is about.”
Some might say the 2020-2021 year was one for the record books - both for having successfully completed competition during a global pandemic, but also for the visibility of the conference on the national stage. “Surviving COVID last year and the conference winning six national championships is a tribute to the administration, coaches, and players,” said Commissioner Heinrich. “We are very proud of them.”
Looking ahead to the conference's goals for the coming year, Schears highlighted a few areas of focus, not the least of which was continuing to deal with the implications of the pandemic. "Last year was a significant challenge, but our coaches, athletes and referees did what needed to be done," said Schears. "As we head into this year, although we are still dealing with COVID-19, we have several new tools in the arsenal, including lessons learned, new opportunities for vaccinations, and the commitment from our colleges to reach the finish line successfully."
With conference competition already underway in several program, Schears and Heinrich are both looking forward to a strong year for the conference. “I am excited to work with Ben this year as he serves as President of the KJCCC Executive Committee,” said Heinrich. “He brings in a wealth of experience that will continue to allow our conference athletes and programs to grow and remain consistent.”
Northwest Tech is moving up the national graduation rate rankings according to a recent report published by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Almanac, an annual publication produced by The Chronicle of Higher Education, provides national insights on data and trends throughout higher education. The college has maintained steady success with graduation rates, and this year Northwest Tech was ranked #20 among 851 two-year publicly-funded colleges in the United States. The new ranking places Northwest Tech among the top 3% in success rates in the nation.
“We are excited about our ability to maintain high graduation rates, and it serves as a reflection of the commitment by our faculty and staff to provide pathways and support for our students to reach graduation,” said Northwest Tech President Ben Schears. “We are small, responsive, and provide a personalized, hands-on experience for our students that larger institutions simply cannot deliver.” Schears indicated the small campus and classes, combined with the high amount of contact time students have with faculty members is the real key for the college. “When students walk down our hallways, we know them and often know aspects of their personal story. If they miss class, we are willing and able to reach out and see why,” said Schears.
According to the latest Almanac, Kansas public two-year colleges had a total of three institutions in the rankings – all of whom were Kansas technical colleges: Flinthills Tech (#1), NCK Tech (#9) and Northwest Tech (#20). “Kansas technical colleges have incredibly high success rates and frankly, we’re very effective at the work we do,” said Schears. “Our role is to develop skilled labor for a hungry workforce, and it is great to see that reflected in national graduation rankings.”