View More Stories
Lake Area Technical Institute
By 2020, the U.S. is projected to have a shortage of 5 million workers with the necessary education or training to fill available job openings. The estimate serves as a clarion call for educators struggling to shape programs that capture the interest and imaginations of talented students whose career prospects are not well served by the traditional college experience.
“There are young people for whom a four-year college degree is not the best fit. And we have to face that fact,” notes Ron Ferguson, Director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative. “The fact that we resist facing that fact means that we fail to prepare the way for young people who need options other than four year degrees,” he said in an interview for the nationally broadcast KET series, Dropping Back In. You can view the entire series online at droppingbackin.org.
Ferguson was commenting for a segment of the series highlighting The Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, South Dakota, an award-winning institution focused on educating students so they can get a job upon graduation. Deb Shepherd is LATI President. “A successful career is possible for anybody who, first of all, completes high school – that’s a given now – and then chooses very wisely what they do their postsecondary training in.”
LATI, recognized three times by the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, offers training in a broad variety of fields, ranging from Agri-Aviation and Ranch Management to Security Specialist, Financial Services and Medical Lab Technician.
Josh Wyner of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program said “college is not a destination but part of a pathway. That is something that a lot of colleges need to pay attention to.” Wyner notes that students care most about getting an education so they can have a brighter future. “Whether that education happens in a K-12, in a 2-year college, a 4-year college or graduate school probably is artificial from a student’s perspective. For a student it’s all education and it’s all to lead to a really good life that comes next, however they define that.”
“The one thing that you can build your life on is a solid job and a job that pays you a decent wage,” said Shepherd.
Today’s most successful colleges, noted Wyner, are those that are not just imagining what employers want, they’re in regular weekly and sometimes daily contact with industry to make sure that what they’re teaching aligns with what industry needs. That level of contact is a regular feature of LATI operations.
“They’re able to turn their programs on a dime. When something needs to be changed – new equipment needs to be brought in, if they can’t afford it they go to the industry,” Wyner said.
In the field of heavy equipment operations, for example, LATI instructors see to it that students get a feel for the machinery and learn to develop a mental picture of what they’re going to do before they do it.
“Lake Area Tech has a rule in most of their programs that you must engage in hands-on education within the first three weeks,” said Wyner. “Enabling students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom in real-life settings in hands-on education engages students who don’t do as well with book learning.”