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Mitchell Technical College again in the running for $1M Aspen Prize

School among 150 across the country eligible for competition

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Mitchell Technical College is one of 150 finalists for the 2023 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence.
Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — Mitchell Technical College is once again in competition for a $1 million academic prize.

The technical college announced in November that it had been selected to be one of 150 schools to be eligible for the competition. Awarded every two years, the next prize-winner will be announced in the spring of 2023.

Carol Grode-Hanks, vice president for academics at Mitchell Technical College, said the school was honored to be selected for the competition.

“It is an opportunity to showcase the great things we do every day at Mitchell Technical College,” Grode-Hanks said.

The $1 million Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence is the nation’s signature recognition for America’s community colleges. 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, according to the organization website.

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By focusing on student success and lifting up models that work, the Aspen Prize aims to celebrate excellence, advance a focus on equitable student success, and stimulate replication of effective culture and practice.

The 150 selected colleges are invited to submit data and narratives as part of the competition. The prize itself spotlights colleges doing the best work and looks at a pool of more than 1,000 public two-year colleges. Those colleges are located in urban, rural and suburban areas across 34 states and serve as few as 230 students to as many as 57,000.

It speaks well for Mitchell Technical College, with an enrollment of around 1,200, to be part of a competition where some of the schools are considerably larger.

“(Some schools) are serving tens of thousands of students, and there is a lot of diversity and student success initiatives (at those schools) due to the size of those schools,” Grode-Hanks said. “To be among that is pretty remarkable.”

Selection for the initial 150 schools is based on publicly-available data. Each school must show strong and improving student outcomes in key areas such as retention, completion, transfer and equity.

Scott Fossum, dean of student success at Mitchell Technical College, said that criteria fits well with the mission of the school. The Aspen Prize doesn’t necessarily focus on school size, but rather what the school is doing to ensure students have the same opportunities to be successful.

“(The judges) look at how we’re trying to make it a level playing field for students as they enter our facility and while they’re here,” Fossum. “That’s to raise the probability that they graduate and also get a good career when they leave.”

The Mitchell Technical College committee in charge of handling the application process had to produce 26 different essays on a variety of topics, including what the school is doing to maintain retention of students, ensuring equity, graduation and placement rates and satisfaction among students and constituents.

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Mitchell Technical College students attend an agriculture internship fair earlier this year on campus. Mitchell Technical College has been named one of 150 schools eligible for the $1 million Aspen Prize for community college excellence.
Erik Kaufman / Mitchell Republic

It is a lot of work, Grode-Hanks said, but it's a group effort that goes smoothly thanks to teamwork and a desire to promote Mitchell Technical College.

“Everything we do here is teamwork. It is definitely a team effort,” Grade-Hanks said.

The school has been in the running for the prize in previous years, but has never been selected to receive the top prize. Grode-Hanks said there were no specific plans for the money should the school win in 2023, although in this day and age every dollar helps, and these dollars would be recycled back into improving the educational experience of Mitchell Technical College students.

“(If Mitchell Technical Institute were to win the prize) it would be sent right back to the students,” Grode-Hanks said.

Recognition for the hard work of the faculty, staff, students and administration at Mitchell Technical College is certainly a plus, Fossum said. But the competition process also allows for reflection on the school’s operation and helps bring to light ways to improve the campus experience for everyone.

“Even if you don’t win, it does give you a chance to reflect and see the areas where you can continue to improve. That’s one thing we’ve done — we haven’t just rested on our laurels. We continue to improve and meet the needs of our students,” Fossum said. “Their needs are changing, and you have to make sure that we’re staying abreast of that situation, too.”

Simply being nominated is a testament to the hard work of everyone at Mitchell Technical College, Mark Wilson, president of school, said in a statement in November.

“On behalf of the Mitchell Tech Leadership Team, congratulations to our hardworking staff and faculty for achieving the standards of the Aspen Institute. We are once again honored to receive this recognition,” Wilson said.

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Grode-Hanks agreed.

“I think that’s the big point on our end. Just being nominated and in the top 150 reiterated how valuable the faculty, staff and students are at Mitchell Technical College,” Grode-Hanks said.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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