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Achieving the Dream Awards Highest Honor for Dramatic Improvements in Student Success

News & Updates
February 16, 2021

During the opening plenary of DREAM 2021, Achieving the Dream awarded Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) the 2021 Leah Meyer Austin Award. The national prize is given annually to a college in the ATD Network that shows sustained, substantive improvement in student outcomes; narrowing and closing of equity gaps; and outstanding commitment to equity-centered cultural change at their institution.

“The Leah Meyer Austin Award recognizes bold, transformational changes that put equity, access, and student success at the center of their institutional priorities,” said Dr. Karen A. Stout, president and CEO of Achieving the Dream. “Northeast Wisconsin Technical College has demonstrated a tenacious commitment to making the college ‘student-ready,’ a cultural shift that has shown clear, positive impacts in the success of its students.”

Northeast Wisconsin Technical College serves 27,000 students living in northeast Wisconsin and beyond. Nearly half (49 percent) of students enrolled at NWTC are first-generation college students, 34 percent of students are Pell-eligible, and 80 percent of students are employed full- or part-time. More than 94 percent of NWTC graduates have careers within six months of graduation and hundreds continue their education through NWTC’s transfer agreements with nearly 40 other colleges and universities.

With the continued support of Achieving the Dream, and a persistent student-centered approach, NWTC will achieve its 2023 goals of a 60-percent credential attainment rate, a 65-percent graduation rate, a 71-percent gateway course completion rate.

For more than a decade, NWTC has developed tools to reflect one of the college’s core values: everyone has worth. Since joining the ATD Network in 2010, NWTC has substantively increased student persistence, credit completion, and the proportion of students who successfully transfer and earn a baccalaureate degree. NWTC has also narrowed equity gaps for students receiving Pell grants, part-time students, and student parents. Not only did the college increase their overall proportion of students who transfer and earn a baccalaureate degree by seven percentage points, from 27 percent to 34 percent, but they also halved an existing equity gap on this measure between students who received Pell grants and those who did not. Read the full case study here.

“We are honored to receive the Leah Meyer Austin Award, a recognition that reflects NWTC’s core belief that everyone — no matter where they are in their personal and professional journeys—can dream big and soar higher,” said NWTC president Dr. H. Jeffrey Rafn. “Through our continuing partnership with Achieving the Dream, we are committed to share practices, policies, and procedures that provide an inclusive space for all people and create a respectful and stimulating environment.”

Dr. Jeffrey Rafn accepts the 2021 Leah Meyer Austin Award on behalf of Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
Dr. Rafn accepts the 2021 LMA Award on the virtual DREAM 2021 stage.

The Leah Meyer Austin Award was established in 2008 to recognize outstanding achievement in supporting and promoting student success through the creation of a culture of evidence, continuous improvement, systemic institutional change, broad engagement of stakeholders, and equity, with particular attention to low-income students and students of color. The annual prize is given in honor of Leah Meyer Austin, former Senior Vice President for Program Development and Organizational Learning at the Lumina Foundation and Emerita Director of the ATD Board of Directors, whose visionary leadership shaped the development of Achieving the Dream. Past Leah Meyer Austin Award winners have achieved significant national recognition including Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence winner Miami Dade College, and Aspen Rising Stars Pierce College and Palo Alto College.

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