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Western Dakota Tech Selected National Community College Award Finalist

In its ongoing quest for excellence, Western Dakota Tech (WDT) is honored to announce it was selected as a finalist for a national award recognizing best practices in community colleges.

In this, WDT’s first time applying for a coveted Bellwether Award, the college was named one of 10 national finalists in the category of Planning, Governance and Finance for its submission, “Using Data-Driven Decisions to Grow Enrollment.” The Planning, Governance and Finance category of the Bellwether Awards recognizes programs or activities that improve efficiency and effectiveness in the community college.

According to the Bellwether College Consortium website, which showcases award finalists and winners dating back to 2013, WDT is the only South Dakota college to have been selected as an awards finalist in many years - if ever. (Award winners are listed through 2010, with no South Dakota colleges listed.)  

Western Dakota Tech competed for the top prize, in its category, at the 2020 Community College Futures Assembly Feb. 2-4, in San Antonio, Texas. Each finalist team provided documentation and support materials, a 50-minute presentation to an audience of their peers and an anonymous team of judges (national experts), and participated in a question and answer session, on Feb. 3. The winner of the category was Howard Community College located in Columbia, Md.

Western Dakota Tech’s Bellwether presenters included: Ann Bolman, Ed.D., Western Dakota Tech President; Kelly Oehlerking, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness & Student Success; Deborah Toms, Student Success Director and Registrar, Title IX Coordinator; Jill Elder, Admissions and Financial Aid Director; and Mark McGrath, Data Reporting and Analysis Director.

WDT’s presentation focused on how the college has made data-driven decisions an institutional priority to move the campus toward excellence and to give our students the best possible chance to graduate and go on to high-paying careers.

Studying data points, and implementing processes focused on student success, Western Dakota Tech has:

  • Revamped its Enrollment Services department and process making it a one-stop shop for the enrollment and registration process.
  • Changed its Financial Aid and Student Account processes which lowered the federal student loan default rate. (Default rate went from 22.8 percent in FY2014 to 12.42 percent in FY 2016.)
  • Opened a Student Success Center to proactively reach at-risk students and to help struggling students to overcome barriers.
  • Worked to increase high school dual enrollment
  • Increased the job placement rate* for students to 98% working with employers and increasing student/employer interaction
  • Made college Key Performance Indicators available to all campus staff in real-time through dashboards.
  • Increased enrollment at a time most colleges are seeing a decline.  (WDT’s enrollment for Fall 2019 was up 14.5 percent over Fall 2018.)

Although WDT did not receive the top award, Dr. Bolman said it was an honor to represent WDT in such a prestigious national event recognizing college excellence. It was also a tremendous experience learning about the exemplary practices of other colleges – some which might be implemented at WDT in the future.

“Western Dakota Tech was recognized in the area of planning, governance, and finance and the competition was fierce. As every employee on campus participates in our planning and shared governance, this recognition is one that everyone at WDT helped us earn! Jill, Debbie, Mark, Kelly and I were proud and excited to represent the campus, and South Dakota, during this competition,” Dr. Bolman said. “We congratulate Howard Community College on their significant win.”

PHOTO CUTLINE: Western Dakota Tech’s Bellwether presenters at the 2020 Community College Futures Assembly included, L-R: Deborah Toms, Student Success Director and Registrar, Title IX Coordinator; Kelly Oehlerking, Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness & Student Success; Ann Bolman, Ed.D., Western Dakota Tech President; Jill Elder, Admissions and Financial Aid Director; and Mark McGrath, Data Reporting and Analysis Director.

About the Community Colleges Futures AssemblyThe assembly, now in its 26th year, convenes annually as an independent national policy forum for key opinion leaders to work as a “think tank” in identifying critical issues facing the future of community colleges, and to recognize Bellwether Winners and Finalist as trend-setting institutions.  

About the Bellwether College ConsortiumThe Bellwether College Consortium is a group of colleges charged with addressing the critical issues facing community colleges through applicable research and the promotion and replication of best practices addressing workforce development, instructional programs and services, and planning governance and finance. The Bellwether Award is proudly sponsored by the Alamo Colleges District in San Antonio, Texas.

About Western Dakota Tech
Western Dakota Tech was established in 1968 and is the only technical college serving the western South Dakota region.

Western Dakota Tech offers programs in a variety of fields, including Business and Computers, Construction and Manufacturing, Energy and Environmental Technologies, Health Sciences, Legal and Public Services, and Transportation Technologies.

More than 98 percent of Western Dakota Tech's most recent graduates are working, continuing their education, or are enlisted in the military. *[Placement information is derived from graduate surveys, faculty-collected data, placement surveys started six months after graduation, and the South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation. Overall placement rate is figured by: (responding graduates employed, continuing education, or in military service)/(responding graduates who are seeking employment). The number of program graduates are unduplicated by CIP code.]

Western Dakota Tech faculty, staff, and administration focus their efforts on helping students gain the skills and experiences they need to succeed. Through hands-on learning, internships, and industry partnerships, Western Dakota Tech students graduate ready to make a real and immediate contribution to their employers and to their communities.

For information about Western Dakota Tech, call (800) 544-8765 or (605) 718-2565 or send an email to Visit us on the web at

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