Many rural communities across the United States are under enormous pressure to revitalize their economies in ways that are consistent with today’s expectations of the modern workplace. Increasing access to postsecondary education and embracing a college-going culture are among the strategies important to revitalization efforts, says Hobart Harmon, co-director of the Rural Math Excel Partnership.
Dr. Harmon was one of four panelists in a REL Midwest Making Connections event produced with Wisconsin Public Television and moderated by Robert Stonehill, a managing director at American Institutes for Research. “Support Systems for Increasing Rural College Access” was taped in August and is now archived online. In this program, panelists discussed rural high school students’ access to postsecondary education, providing background, then focusing on barriers to access and potential strategies for addressing those barriers.
Why the concern? Some 46 million people live in counties across the country classified by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget as “nonmetropolitan,” explained Dr. Harmon. And during 2010 through 2013, the population shrank in 64 percent of these counties, accelerating the brain drain faced by rural America.
In rural Wisconsin, where agriculture is vital to the state’s economy, many communities struggle to stay strong, said Sharon Wendt, director of career and technical education at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Among the challenges Wisconsin rural schools face are declining enrollment, growing poverty, higher transportation costs, and increasing numbers of English language learners.
Increasing poverty can create the mindset that postsecondary education is unattainable, said Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, a statewide organization whose members have a vested interest in strengthening rural schools and communities. Dawn Nordine, executive director of Wisconsin Virtual School and a member of REL Midwest’s Virtual Education Research Alliance, noted that it is difficult for a small, rural school to meet personal learning needs with a robust curriculum if it has only one highly qualified teacher for grades 6–12.
So, what are some of the support systems that show promise for increasing college entry—not only in Wisconsin, but for rural students in other states? Tune in to this one-hour program to learn more about the research behind rural college access, collaborative high school and college partnerships, and support strategies used at the local level.
This guest blog was submitted by REL Midwest.
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