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LTC Named Top 150 Community College


Lincoln Trail College was named one of 150 community colleges eligible to compete for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in America’s community colleges. Lincoln Trail College was selected from a pool of nearly 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide to compete for the $1 million Aspen Prize. 

“There is no question we feel an enormous amount of pride in being selected by the Aspen Institute as one of the top 150 Community Colleges in the nation,” says LTC President Ryan Gower. “It is a validation of the hard work of both our students and faculty and staff.  The fact that we are able to achieve this level of achievement and do it with such efficiency in our system is all the more impressive.  I think it is also a statement on the quality of the educational system in Crawford County as a whole.  The teachers and administrators in our area schools do a great job preparing students to be college ready and instilling in them a work ethic that I have not seen in other parts of the state.”

Awarded every two years since 2011, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions with outstanding achievements in four areas: learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and high levels of access and success for minority and low-income students. This is the fourth time LTC has been nominated for the award. The college also earned nominations in 2011, 2013, and 2017.

“We are ecstatic to be nominated for such an honor,” says LTC Dean of Instruction Brent Todd. “I believe that this is a testament to the commitment of our faculty and staff in terms of getting students not only into the classroom but getting them to complete. We have many opportunities at Lincoln Trail College to assist our students in the learning process. Our faculty does an exceptional job not only teaching and educating our students, but also getting them to the resources outside of the classroom to be successful.”

Gower says it should come as no surprise that Lincoln Trail College and Illinois Eastern Community Colleges consistently win such recognition. “Students First.  It is a motto you will find printed on pens, t-shirts, and pads of paper across the District.  It is a constant reminder to us to put the best interest of our students first and to do anything we can to help them persist in their studies, graduate, and move on to realize their academic or professional goals.  It is more than a motto.  We constantly set goals, evaluate our performance, and make changes in areas where we feel our excellence could be enhanced.”

Students like sophomore Shyloh Hearn say that they really appreciate how close instructors work with their students. “I get to know my teachers really well and they all know me on a first-name basis. Because of that, I feel more involved and liked because they actually know who I am. My teachers actually come up to me outside of class and have conversations and really get to know me. I don’t feel like I’m just a random person here because I feel like the teachers really know me.”

Jackson Niehaus is a sophomore and he tells people that coming to Lincoln Trail College is the best decision he’s ever made. He says he’s proud to know that LTC is once again being recognized for its excellence. When he talks with friends and prospective students, he tells them that LTC has a great environment and there are great instructors.

Instructor Phil Thorsen says he sees his fellow instructors putting students first on a daily basis when they check in on them or talk with them outside of class. He says he regularly checks on students if they miss a class to make sure there aren’t any problems. “That’s part of the reason I became an instructor; to affect students’ lives in a personal way. From the perspective of a community college, and where the Aspen Award fits in, is this whole idea of making people’s lives better.”

One of the areas where Lincoln Trail College excels is graduation rate, especially when compared to other area community colleges. The graduation rate at LTC is 55%. It’s 40% at Lake Land College, 29% at John A. Logan College, 22% at Vincennes University and 14% at Ivy Tech. Gower says the Student Services team at Lincoln Trail College also plays a very important role.  This team, which includes recruiters, advisors, financial aid staff, and retention specialists, helps students find programs that are a good fit and direct them to resources they need to succeed.

“Not only are students not achieving their educational or professional goals at these other institutions, they are leaving them burdened with debt that is actually making it harder for them to move forward,” says Gower.  “We underestimate the importance of the Lincoln Trail College Foundation in supporting our students with scholarships that do not need to be repaid is a real asset to our communities.  Students at other schools have loans available, but our Foundation does an excellent job addressing legitimate financial hardship with scholarships that do not need to be paid back.” 
The success of Lincoln Trail College isn’t going unnoticed in the community. Alex Pleasant is the executive director of the Crawford County Development Association. The organization serves as the county’s economic development agency. He says he’s not surprised that LTC is earning national recognition. In fact, he says that kind of excellence has become expected because of the standard that Lincoln Trail has lived up to year after year. He believes that excellence is a major boon for the local economy. 

“The quality is such a critical factor because your education, especially your community college partners, is where you’re developing your workforce. That’s where you’re providing resources and opportunities for your small businesses. It’s where you have opportunities for incredible partnerships, as Lincoln Trail does, with larger employers. That’s really how your community and your economy interface with one another.”

Lincoln Trail College will move forward to the next round of the competition for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence by submitting an application to be reviewed through a rigorous evaluation for a spot on the top ten Aspen Prize finalists list. Top ten finalists will be named in May 2018. The Aspen Institute will then conduct site visits to each of the finalists and collect additional quantitative data. A distinguished Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner, finalist(s) with distinction, and rising star(s) in spring 2019.

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