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Education Key to a Sustainable Rural Future

Submitted by: Jason T. Kessler

Posted: Sep 14, 2015 – 06:00 AM EST

Series: Education for a Sustainable Future

Tags: education, rural communities, unemployment, sustainability

 
Hertford-studentpresenters-2014

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts

Parents raising children in rural areas across the United States do not need a study of job opportunities close to home to tell them that employment prospects for their children are bleak. Unless systematic changes in rural economic development take place, the next generation will be forced to move away or face little chance of finding jobs that provide wages high enough to sustain a comfortable lifestyle. 

(In photo: Students from Hertford County pose with Jason Kessler after presenting at a local event celebrating the district’s participation in the Rural Innovative Schools initiative. The event showcased the 170 students who had a 99 percent success rate in courses taken through Roanoke-Chowan Community College, East Carolina University Second Life program and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro iSchools.)

These parents have lived through dramatic changes in the economic fabric of rural America during the past twenty years. They’ve seen firsthand how global competition in manufacturing and the flight of the brightest minds to metropolitan areas have combined to devastate their communities, leaving behind low-skilled, low-paying jobs and a thirst for talented entrepreneurs whose skills could possibly create new industry to revitalize the sagging economies. The rural life of earlier decades is no longer sustainable. 

State and local government response to rural economic development has revolved primarily around incentive packages to lure new industry to these areas. These incentives have helped bring some new business to rural regions. But rural America’s unemployment rate remains twice that of the national average, triggering many community leaders in these depressed areas to rethink the approach for using incentives in the quest for business recruitment (see http://www.newsobserver.com/news/business/article29638201.html). 

The urgency for economic development in rural towns cannot be addressed by incentive programs alone. Rural leaders must look to their local education system as an engine to drive economic growth and sustain a healthy community. The demand for workers with skills that can be transferred across industries is increasing. It is essential that government, business and community leaders in the state’s rural areas collaborate to design school systems that focus on supplying graduates with the essential skills that will attract employers.

In 2011, NC New Schools/Breakthrough Learning began leading innovative strategies in rural education with a $15 million federal Investing in Innovation grant aimed at exposing students in 11 North Carolina school districts to a college-ready culture and providing new opportunities for students to graduate with transferrable college credit (see http://ncnewschools.org/rural-innovative-schools-initiative/). Through this effort, students in the schools have the opportunity to earn transferrable college credits – tuition free – through local community colleges and online courses, providing significant cost-saving benefits to their families. In fall 2014, an estimated 1,700 students were taking college courses through the initiative. 

This year, with support from a new $20 million federal grant and additional private investment, NC New Schools/Breakthrough Learning is extending this work to rural communities in Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi and South Carolina (see http://ncnewschools.org/national-rural-education-initiative-to-improve-college-and-career-readiness/). The Rural Innovative Schools initiative promises to transform the high school classroom to meet the needs of all students – an effort that is critical for the students and their families, and for the future of rural economic development. More than 13,000 students and nearly 800 educators in the five states are projected to benefit from the effort, which focuses on increasing graduation rates and raising the number of college credits students earn while still in high school.

The initiative addresses the unique challenges of high-need students in rural areas by:

  • radically changing expectations for college and career readiness; 
  • developing strong leadership at the classroom and school levels; 
  • building practices that lead to high-quality teaching and learning; 
  • promoting policies that lead to improved student outcomes; and 
  • cultivating business and community partners to engage education as a regional economic driver. 

Through the initiative, NC New Schools/Breakthrough Learning will:

  • deliver customized professional learning to build the knowledge, skills and capabilities of teachers and administrators; 
  • provide design and planning services to strategically leverage time and financial resources to transform schools and districts to personalize learning for each student;   
  • identify and monitor data to improve decision making; and 
  • offer statewide support to identify policies and best practices for greater implementation of college and career readiness strategies.

While incentive packages will continue to play a role in attracting new industry across the state, it is imperative that community leaders look at creative ways to involve local education systems in their overall economic development strategy.  Rural communities can build a strong foundation for economic growth and industry recruitment by demonstrating a commitment to strategies that increase the number of skilled graduates in the labor force. 

Forging new partnerships between business and education that seek to expand access to high quality education and built-in support structures to address the challenges students in high needs communities face, will not only improve the career outlook for all students, but will also build a workforce of attractive candidates for employers to hire for years to come. 

This is the most recent article in our series "Education for a Sustainable Future". For more articles, go to http://www.csrwire.com/blog/series/86-education-for-a-sustainable-future/posts


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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