In the tough world of community college graduation rates, Alexandria Technical and Community College wins.

The school has the highest three-year graduation rates of the state's public, two-year colleges: 51 percent of students completed their degree within 150 percent of the normal time, according to 2010 numbers published by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Officials at Alexandria acknowledge that number is partly due to the college's technical focus. Most students enroll in a very specific program with a very specific goal.

"We don’t put them through a year and a half of courses not related to what they want to do," said Jan Doebbert, vice president of academic and student affairs. "They start working in area of interest right out of the shoot as a first-year freshman."

But "there is also a sort of intangible," he said, "a culture of high expectations."

The word "community" was added to the college's name in 2010, to acknowledge its new two-year liberal arts degree, so that students might transfer to a four-year school. The college requires students working toward that degree to take a one-credit class in career planning, Doebbert said, "so they don't end up in the middle with just a bill."

As I reported in a story Monday, several colleges within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system are trying similar "student success" courses. That story featured a three-credit course at Century College in White Bear Lake.

It's important to note that Alexandria Technical and Community College does not have the strongest numbers when three-year graduation is combined with its transfer rate -- and "examining both graduation and transfer rates more accurately reflects student outcomes," according to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

About 64 percent of Alexandria's students graduate or transfer within three years. But 75 percent of students at Rainy River Community College do.