One of the many informative speakers at the second annual EMSI conference was Walla Walla Community College President Steven VanAusdle, who highlighted EMSI’s wine cluster study for WWCC and the national exposure the college in Washington state has gleaned for its innovative wine program. PBS NewsHour featured WWCC’s Center for Enology and Viticulture — the first of its kind in the nation — and the critical role the college plays in Walla Walla in a recent segment. (You can find it embedded below.)
In addition to the national attention from PBS, WWCC was recently named a finalist for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. It was also a finalist (and top-five finisher) last year, the first year for the national prize. EMSI works regularly with six of the 10 finalists — WWCC, Brazosport College (TX), Broward College (FL), Kingsborough Community College (NY), Santa Fe College (FL), and West Kentucky Community and Technical College (another repeat finalist).
The 10 finalists came from a pool of over 1,000 colleges. As Josh Wyner, executive director of the program for Aspen, mentioned in this podcast with Learning Matters, the colleges are graded on four criteria:
- Graduation rates
- Job placement — what happens to students after they leave the college?
- Learning — how much do students learn while going to college? And are colleges tracking learning measures in a way that they can improve them, Wyner said.
- Equity — how they serve the fast-growing minority and low-income population.
The second category, job placement, “is really the game-changer,” Wyner said in the podcast. Students want to know what the graduation rate is for the college they choose, he noted, but they also want to know: “Am I going to get a job with that degree? And this is a game-changer because if colleges can start to distinguish themselves with how their graduates do — with real, solid information — I think everybody stands to benefit.”
That’s one of the areas where Walla Walla Community College stands out. The PBS report cited a WWCC survey showing that 80% of graduates from the wine program are working in the wine industry. It no doubt helped that the program was constructed based on input from industry leaders. “The industry was the one that dictated the curriculum,” Myles Anderson, the founding director of the program, told PBS. ” … They said we want practical, concrete, hands on. So that’s what we have done.”
During his presentation at the EMSI conference, VanAusdle emphasized that the flourishing wine industry has helped transform Walla Walla’s economy, which faltered in the 1990s with the decline of the food processing industry. EMSI’s recently updated wine cluster study (the original was done in 2007; see PDF) showed in 2011 there were over 2,000 base jobs in Walla Walla’s wine production and wine tourism industry, and over 6,000 jobs with multiplier effects included.
Said VanAusdle, “What is prosperity? For us, it’s wine in a bottle.” Before the program and winemaking in Walla Walla took, he and other local leaders took a step back and asked what they could do to push the economy forward. Clearly, investing in the wine industry was a good choice.
“Vital to this is having timely and accurate information,” VanAusdle said.