Over the weekend, President Obama became the fourth president in U.S. history to visit all 50 states during his tenure. Obama’s visited South Dakota to deliver the commencement speech at Lake Area Technical Institute (LATI) in Watertown, a huge confirmation of the President’s commitment to the community college system, and an affirmation of the value of Career Technical Education (CTE).
There, the President gave his congratulations to LATI graduates, as well as spoke about his initiative, America’s College Promise, which would make two years of community college free for students. Obama also praised Lake Area Technical Institute when he said, “Community colleges like this one can be a great place for young people to launch a career. But they’re also a great place for folks who have been in the workforce for a while.”
Michael Cartney, President of LATI, cites a variety of reasons that the school was a focus of the President’s visit. LATI boasts a graduation rate of 75 percent and an incredible 98 percent placement rate. “We feel honored and humbled that our President chose to come here to do the commencement address. The tribute he paid to our graduates and staff is huge, just momentous. [It’s the ] biggest gift he could have given our staff and students,” said Cartney. “This is a gift not only to Lake Area Technical Institute, but to all CTE. This is an acknowledgement that CTE is important and that there is a strong future for what CTE has to provide.”
Cartney explained that success is not only defined by graduation or placement rates, but also how the school is preparing students for the best careers for them. A strong commitment to career guidance and providing students with the information they need to make informed decisions on their career options has resulted in graduates earning an average yearly salary that eclipses the South Dakota median income within just five years after graduation.
In addition to guidance, the school also focuses on engaging the community and employers and industry. LATI has worked hard with the business community to improve the image of CTE and technical careers. For example, one advertisement highlights what high-tech and high-skill manufacturing jobs look like today, not the old factories students and parents often envision.
What matters most, however, is the school’s culture. “The biggest thing that distinguishes our school is our culture. We genuinely care about our students, and they are engaged and make meaningful connections here,” something that has shown to be a high indicator of success in studies conducted by Gallup, among others. “Our heritage goes back to caring about our students and working with them to be successful.”
So what does CTE look like in the future at LATI? With 11 consecutive years of growth, there is an influx of new students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and partners. Though LATI has reveled in a variety of national accolades including the President’s visit, Cartney explains the responsibility of the school to remain concentrated on their mission, “We are staying focused on our students and that remains our way forward,” said Cartney. “It’s not about being the best, but doing the best for our students.”
Katie Fitzgerald, Communications Associate
Photo Credit: President Barack Obama addresses the graduates at Lake Area Technical Institute (South Dakota Public Broadcasting)