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WITC ranked nation's 6th best

One of the nation's best community colleges is right here in western Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College has again cracked the Top 10 in a study by Washington Monthly magazine ranking the nation's two-year colleges. Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire was ranked 10th.

WITC's four campuses, including New Richmond's campus, were ranked as the seventh best two-year college in the magazine's first study in 2007.

For the 2010 ranking, the school moved up a notch.

"We're pretty proud of that fact," said Joe Huftel, campus administrator in New Richmond. "It's a pretty good indication of how we're performing."

The ranking is based on a satisfaction survey filled out by students at each institution, graduation rates and other indicators.

Huftel said the high ranking shows that students who attend WITC are pretty happy with the education they are receiving.

"It's students telling us what kind of experience they are having," he said. "It's not something that's coming from us saying how good of a job we're doing."

This year's ranking is especially gratifying because the Washington Monthly study evaluated 663 two-year colleges. That compares to only 257 two-year colleges evaluated three years ago.

"So we held our own," Huftel said. "With so many schools being evaluated, we could have been knocked out of the Top 10, but we didn't. It's a direct result of us listening to our customers and improving our service."

Now that WITC has risen to the top of the national rankings, Huftel said administrators are not about to rest on their laurels. The four campuses in New Richmond, Rice Lake, Ashland and Superior are in the midst of a three-year strategic planning process.

"We always want to look at how we can improve," he said. "We are always looking at ways of providing better service to our customers."

As an example, Huftel explained, students and parents told WITC officials that they were concerned about the high cost of textbooks.

The institution made a commitment to try and reduce the cost of textbooks by as much as 50 percent by offering an online bookstore that features used books.

"It's an opportunity for the students to reduce the cost of going to school, if they choose to buy used books," Huftel said. "There are still a lot of students who still want to buy the new, hard copies of the books so they can mark them up and keep them."

Kevin Carey, a research and policy manager, compiled the results for Washington Monthly and said the top performing schools were doing a commendable job.

"When it comes to quality of instruction, they outperform not only their two-year peers, but many elite four-year research universities as well," he said. "Students at the top community colleges are more likely than their research university peers to get prompt feedback from instructors, work with other students on projects in class, make class presentations and contribute to class discussions."

Bob Meyer, WITC president, said that the board, administration and staff are extremely proud of and pleased with the ranking.

"These results show how incredibly committed WITC's entire staff is to making the students' experience at WITC outstanding and rewarding," Meyer said.

Five survey questions were used to develop the rankings, including "Active and Collaborative Learning," "Student Effort," "Academic Challenge," "Student-Faculty Interaction" and "Support for Learners." The remaining 15 percent of each college's ranking is based on graduation rates submitted by colleges to the U.S. Department of Education.

WITC's highest scores were reflected in the "Active and Collaborative Learning" category. The score for "Academic Challenge" was also quite high.

Jennifer Kunselman, WITC Research and Planning coordinator, said the study supports WITC's recent graduate follow-up survey. Ninety-eight percent of the graduates were satisfied with the training they received at WITC and they would recommend WITC to a friend or family member.

WITC serves the educational and career needs of more than 25,000 residents of northwestern Wisconsin each year. With multiple campuses, WITC offers career-focused associate degree programs, technical diplomas, short-term certificates, customized training and a wide array of courses for personal or career enrichment.