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An Echo Press Editorial: Top-notch education without deep debt

Isiah DeBois of Buffalo, who is entering his first year in the law enforcement program at Alexandria Technical and Community College, moves in this weekend ahead of the start of the fall semester Monday. He is pictured with Caroline Lafave and Brooklyn Dubois. (Ross Evavold / Echo Press)

In today's day and age, we sure hope that people no longer hold the view that community colleges are an "inferior" choice for furthering one's education.

Community colleges provide intensive, hands-on learning using cutting edge technology that puts students on a fast track to a successful career.

And here in Douglas County, we're fortunate to have one of the best colleges in the entire nation — Alexandria Technical and Community College, which began another fall semester Monday.

The college has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments over the years. It has the best graduation rate of all Minnesota State institutions. Its graduation job placement rates are consistently in the 98th percentile and it's been recognized for eight consecutive years as a community college of excellence.

ATCC has also been recognized by CNN Money, listed as the 27th top community college in 2012; the Aspen Institute, listed in the top 10 percent of U.S. community colleges in 2013 and earned eighth place in the Washington Monthly ranking of 100 U.S. community colleges in 2010.

It also placed 24th in a rating conducted by TheBestSchools.org in 2013-2018, based on completion of an associate degree or transfer to a four-year college, active student engagement in academics, strong rates of employment, student diversity and reasonable tuition costs.

Now it can add another feather to its cap. A recently released study by WalletHub ranked the ATCC as the fourth best community college in the nation — and number-one in Minnesota — for providing the best education for the most affordable rates. One other college in Minnesota, St. Cloud Technical and Community College, ranked 13th in the country and fifth in the state.

WalletHub, a personal finance website, studied 715 schools that are a part of the American Association of Community Colleges. It examined three key areas — cost and financing, education outcomes and career outcomes — and ranked each school.

The cost and financing category looked mostly at in-state tuition rates and a presence of free community college education. The education outcomes area included graduation rates and first-year retention rates. The career outcomes category looked at areas including student loan default rates, median salary after attending and return on educational investments.

Minnesota colleges ranked high in general. Other Minnesota colleges on the national top 20 list include Northland Community and Technical College (fifth), Minnesota State Community and Technical College (sixth) North Hennepin Community College (10th) and Lake Superior College (19th). Overall, Minnesota only came in second to South Dakota for the quality and affordability of its community and technical colleges.

Even though the Alexandria Technical and Community College has been a proud part of the Alexandria area for 57 years, it's easy to take it for granted. It's always here, year in, year out. Its graduates complete their programs and move on to exciting careers they are keenly prepared for — without the burden of deep debt.

This latest study is more evidence of that and shows we're fortunate to have such a top-notch college success story in our community.

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