Hannah Meier, a second-year liberal arts student at Alexandria Technical and Community College, didn’t expect to like attending the college as much as she does.
“I just really enjoy it,” she said. “Tech schools are underrated.”
While Meier most likes the school for the small size, the college is being recognized in other areas.
WalletHub, a personal-finance website, released its report on 2019’s Best & Worst Community Colleges this month, coupled with its state-by-state ranking of the best and worst community-college systems.
Alexandria Technical and Community College ranked seventh on the list of top 20 community colleges in the nation and Minnesota as a whole ranked third on the list of states with the best community-college systems.
To arrive on these rankings, the site compared 710 community colleges across 19 metrics of cost and quality. The data set included the cost of in-state tuition and fees, student-faculty ratio and graduation rate. Three key dimensions included cost and financing, education outcomes and career outcomes.
“The study can prove useful to future students who have not yet decided which college to attend,” said WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez in an email.
Jaydn Walberg, a second-year welding student at ATCC, said going to a technical college in Minnesota was appealing because of the low cost, compared to the state’s four-year institutions.
“Cost is definitely a major consideration when choosing a college. Those who decide to opt for a community college to earn their general education credits also look at other things, like having a more flexible schedule, or being part of a smaller size class,” Gonzalez said.
And the small atmosphere is indeed a plus for Meier. “I like being able to know my instructors and other students, and seeing everyone again for the second year,” she said. “Everyone here is laid back and easy to get along with.”
Meier is at ATCC to finish her general courses. She plans to transfer to a four-year university to study elementary education.
She is a part of intramural sports at the college and feels like she gets to know a little bit about everyone because her classes are mixed with people from a variety of programs.
Walberg said he has found a lot of camaraderie as well. He only has two main classrooms for welding and often gets encouragement from his instructors to attend events at the college. Both help the social aspect, he said.
The college prepares students well for the working world, Walberg said. “They make sure you’re good to go,” he said. “They try to find stuff to keep you busy.”
Based on a followup survey that ATCC sends to recent grads, it has a 98% graduate job placement rate.
Rebekah Summer, director of institutional research and communications at the college, said she was not surprised at seeing ATCC on the list of top 20 community colleges because the college is outstanding.
She said that for staff on campus, the pursuit of excellence is a daily expectation.
“I do believe that that is culturally ingrained in everything we do,” Summer said. “Anything short of excellence is: you’re not trying hard enough.”
One of the ways the college staff and faculty try to go above and beyond is by making sure students’ issues are resolved and not just having them bounce between offices. In addition, faculty try to keep relationships they make with students even after graduation, which is what sets ATCC apart from the rest, Summer said.
“This is nice that somebody else noticed that what we do makes a difference, that this going above and beyond expectations is actually paying off,” she said.
Gregg Raisanen, vice president of academic and student affairs, said he thinks the biggest draw for potential students is the college’s reputation and its ability to not only enroll students but actually get them to finish.
“That’s what we pride ourselves on,” he said. The college has advisers that meet with students regularly to check in, discussing programs, making sure students are in areas that fit them and that they’re on track for graduation.
Other helpful items to ensure student success include emergency grants, tutoring through support services, food shelf resources and counseling.
The college is also exploring starting some sort of medical services for students such as telemedicine services, Raisanen said. Telemedicine allows health professionals to assist patients from a distance, using telecommunications technology.
“That’s one of the things that we try to do, is connect the student with the resources they may need in order to keep them enrolled here at the college,” Raisanen said.