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A TOAST to Walla Walla Community College, co-winner of the 2013 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence and a national model for innovation.

The small school in the heart of Southeat Washington wine country does what good community colleges should do and does it better than most. College graduation and transfer rates are above the national average. Minority and low-income students do as well as other students.

Walla Walla also embodies the spirit of innovation, aligning programs with economic trends.

Under the able leadership of college President Steve VanAusdle, the widely acclaimed enology and viticulture program offered a nimble response to industry needs. College Cellars, the first commercial winery by a community college, sets a new standard.

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Fine wine made by18-year-olds has been noticed by lawmakers. The Legislature is considering exempting students in wine, beer and culinary programs from the state’s legal drinking age of 21. Good. You can’t keep talent bottled up.

Washington’s wine industry is the second-largest in the nation, an $8.6 billion industry with growing export markets to Asia.

Walla Walla’s award comes with a $400,000 prize and a national platform to model best practices for other community colleges.

Cheers to Walla Walla for an innovative spirit that fuels college excellence.

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