A new initiative to help rural NC colleges


Research shows that out of 1,000 public colleges in the U.S., there are somewhere in between 260 and 800 rural technical schools. These estimates vary depending on how the countryside is defined.

In North Carolina, the figure is close to 70% – s 40 of the state’s 58 community colleges serve at least one rural countyaccording to the North Carolina Public College (NCCCS) system.

Although problems on the path to higher education exist in every community, these problems are often greater in rural areas. Mostly these communities are poorerinsufficiently serviced and have lower college completion rates than in urban areas.

Many rural community colleges are primary provider of necessary resources. And as communities, they face unique challenges and opportunities in an effort to enhance achievement and close the gap in economic prosperity.

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A new initiative

The Center for Leadership and Research at the Protein Public Collegein partnership with Achieving a dreamrecently launched initiative help rural institutions solve the problems they face and seize opportunities. The Rural College Leaders Program (RCLP) is an exciting learning community with 10 community colleges in North Carolina serving at least one rural county.

Dr. Audrey Jaeger speaks at the RCLP meeting. Provided by the Belk Center

RCLP is a three-year supported program Ascendium Education Group and is designed to close gaps in equity and improve student performance.

According to Fr. press release leaders will “collaborate to set measurable goals, use evidence-based practices, identify opportunities, and develop action plans to address strategic priorities”.

“The program of heads of rural colleges has been developed taking into account the unique problems and unique capabilities of our rural institutions. Thanks to this program, we strive to improve the honest success of students, which leads to greater social and economic mobility in the regions of our state.

Dr. Audrey Jaeger, Executive Director of the Belk Center

The cohort includes the following community colleges: Carteret, Catawba Valley, Albemarle College, Davidson-Davy, Isothermal, McDowell is technical, Roanoke-Chovan, Stanley, Vance-Grenvilleand Western Piedmont.

As part of the capacity-building program, the presidents of each of the 10 colleges will be involved in data analysis to help them evaluate and make changes. They will have the opportunity to review institutional policies and participate in strategic planning. In addition, leaders will collaborate on strategies that improve student outcomes and address rural issues that affect their communities. Achieving the Dream coaches will work with each of the presidents to provide training tailored to the needs of their institution.

Dr Brian Merritt, president of McDowell Tech, said an experience like RCLP would push the college out of the comfort zone and help them move forward.

“Our vision at MTCC is to learn and grow.” We are a wonderful institution that serves our community well. But our goal for the next three years is to find fair solutions that will help us better serve the people, our community and our institution, ”Merritt said.

The first convocation of the group took place on Monday, February 28. Participants began to lay the foundation for strengthening the capacity of their institution to improve the honest success of students.

Two coaches from Achieving the Dream were present along with guest speaker Dr. Greg Hodges, president of Patrick Henry Public College in Martinsville, Virginia.

The next RCLP training event is scheduled for September 2022. Between training activities, participants will gather in regional joint groups to continue their work.

View of the sound of God from the Carteret Community College. Molly Osborne / EducationNC

Why focus on rural colleges?

Of the 100 counties of North Carolina, 78 are considered ruralreports NC Rural Center.

Students and families in rural areas face unique challenges, including fewer health options, and lack of jobs that provide a salary that provides for the familyunreliable transportation, and inadequate broadband internet.

While at the national level, in rural areas the rates of high school graduates are equal 4% higher than the national averagestudents from rural areas do not attend colleges at the same rate as in urban and suburban areas.

According to Fr. MyFutureNC report, among 16-24 year olds in North Carolina, 301,000 work but not in school and 129,000 do not study or work. The report also states that 1.3 million adults between the ages of 25 and 44 do not have higher education or certificates. Urban counties have the highest levels of achievement after secondary education, while more rural counties, especially in the northeast, have lower rates.

And the population in many rural counties is shrinking.

After reviewing the 2020 census data, Carolina’s demographics found that over the past 10 years 51 counties across the state lost population. Much of this decline occurred in rural North North Carolina. Carolina’s demographics reported that “the county lost more than expected and the losses were greater than expected.”

For years, researchers have warned about nationwide demographic break in 2025, when high school graduates reach a peak and then decline by 2037.

How does this affect North Carolina’s public colleges?

As the county’s population shrinks, the number of entrants to the community college that serves it typically decreases. According to Fr. Report for December 2021 from the system of public colleges.

Population reduction also affects funding. As rural counties lose residents, their tax base suffers, which means less money to support local colleges.

In many ways, the pandemic has accelerated enrollment problems. In North Carolina, admission to public colleges decreased by 11% from fall 2019 to fall 2020. While last fall there was a slight increase in enrollment throughout the system it has not recovered to record levels before the pandemic.

According to Dr. Mary Ritling, former President of Davidson-Davy and Professor of Practice at the Belk Center, college leaders will need to rethink their thinking to meet the unique needs of their communities and ensure the economic prosperity of students and their families.

Rutherford County, served by Isothermal Community College. Emily Thomas / EducationNC

Understanding the work ahead

The RCLP was launched to help rural colleges in North Carolina close gaps in equity, improve student performance and pave the way for greater social and economic mobility.

But there is no silver bullet when it comes to solving all these things.

It is a process that will require colleges to challenge long-held beliefs, make operational adjustments, remove policies that create barriers, and build relationships with external partners.

“We need to reconsider how we participate. The way we have always done this does not work because the needs of the community have changed. How do we support those people who interact with us and the community so they can lead better lives? We can do this only if we find out what the needs are and deliberately meet their specific needs. ”

Dr. Margaret Annunciation, President of Isothermal

Ritling, who has served as president in rural areas for most of her career, said there are some things that college leaders can’t change and they need to accept that reality. But accepting this does not mean behaving in a deficient mood. Leaders will need to think differently and focus on the opportunities that exist, she said.

This includes asking tough questions. Colleges need to consider who they serve and what their needs are, and they need to think about those in a community they don’t serve, Ritling said.

“For those whom we do not serve, what do we not do? Are we not covering enough? We don’t know what barriers are. ”

Dr. Mary Ritling, former President of Davidson-Davy and Professor of Practice at the Protein Center

During his presentation, Hodges said his presidential mission to Patrick Henry was one and only: to bring students and their families out of poverty. But he was very clear – colleges cannot close the gaps in justice or bring students and their families out of poverty alone.

“This is a public project,” he said, stressing the importance of using external joint partnerships.

Ritling agreed, but said colleges may also need to look at partnerships outside of their communities, including nationally.

Either way, inaction is not an option. Partnerships will be the key to moving the needle. And because college leaders work with external partners, their conversations should be comprehensive – to raise the most basic needs of society.

“We need to talk about housing in our community, transportation and childcare, because all of these are issues of equity that prohibit some students from claiming a career that can lead to highly skilled middle-class jobs in the 21st century.” said Hodges.

“We have to be a voice because we are the conduit from education to employment.”

Dr. Greg Hodges, President of Patrick Henry Public College

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is a political analyst for EducationNC.

A new initiative to help rural NC colleges

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