The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) today released Strengthening Rural Community Colleges: Innovations and Opportunities, a paper that details the needs of rural colleges throughout the United States. ACCT’s Strengthening Rural Community College initiative is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“For more than a year, ACCT’s staff has interviewed over 500 rural college trustees, CEOs, and rural leaders to assess their needs,” said ACCT President and CEO J. Noah Brown. “The paper identified three primary needs, all existing before but exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as some extraordinary solutions to student needs.”
The top three challenges facing rural community colleges are:
- Local, state and federal funding disparities;
- Access to broadband Internet; and
- Student basic needs & mental health resources.
These challenges impair students’ and institutions’ well being. Another challenge faced by rural colleges is what it means to be rural: Federal agencies apply at least a dozen different measures to determine what a rural community college is, resulting in official counts that range from 260 to 800 rural institutions. This disagreement of definitions makes it difficult for many small, poorly resourced institutions to seek out, apply for and report on grants intended to support them.
Among examples detailed in the paper are:
- Hazard Community and Technical College in Perry County, Kentucky, created a “Tuesday Night Live” student success program that offers flexible hybrid courses, activities for children including, free meals, tutoring and expanded hours for student services. Seventy-two percent (72%) of full-time students who enrolled in at least one Tuesday Night Live class passed all their courses.
- Cankdeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college in Fort Totten, North Dakota, reconciled outstanding student debt for all students who earned a “C” or higher grade in their courses and put a licensed clinical psychologist on retainer to be available to students, faculty and staff.
- Navajo Technical College in Crowpoint, New Mexico and Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, North Dakota, like many other tribal and community colleges, are serving as resource centers to their greater communities, serving as facilities for vaccine storage in their below-zero freezer facilities.
- And during the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions in rural areas that have poor Internet access found creative ways to help students maintain their progress. For example, North Carolina placed Wi-Fi hotspots in 280 school buses and parked them in underserved areas.
Community and technical colleges are central to their communities, and perhaps especially so in rural parts of the country,” Brown said. “ACCT appreciates the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in our efforts to build onto a growing body of knowledge that helps us understand rural colleges’ needs in this time of unprecedented transformation. We look forward to continuing to investigate the needs of students at small, isolated colleges.”