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New Bill Proposes Federal Grant Program for Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development

The new program, potentially to be included as part of the renewal of the Higher Education Act, aims to strengthen outcomes for rural students and stimulate economic activity in rural communities

Today, lawmakers introduced legislation proposing a federal grant program to support the mutually reinforcing goals of rural postsecondary education and economic development. The Success for Rural Students and Communities Act – potentially to be included as part of the Higher Education Act reauthorization – aims to stimulate economic activity and strengthen the rural talent base. Since its founding, rootEd Alliance has worked to remove obstacles to success for students in rural America, and this legislation is an important step forward in acknowledging the unique needs of rural students and their communities.

"It's validating to see the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act reflecting some of the most important learnings about how to clear the path to educational opportunity for students in rural America," said Noa Meyer, President of rootEd Alliance. "Grant programs like these will drive innovation to take on this challenge and help us enable rural students and their communities to thrive."

Rural students graduate from high school at a higher rate than the national average,1 but face unique challenges when pursuing higher education. Low-income rural students are less likely to enroll and persist in college than all other demographic groups,2 and only 34 percent of rural young adults are currently enrolled in a two-or four-year college.3 At a time when 80 percent of jobs that pay middle-class wages require education beyond high school,4 closing this gap is critical to the future success of rural students and their communities.

"Rural students need greater support to get to and through college, and it is critical that these efforts align with workforce development and economic growth. We should build and strengthen communities, not accelerate out-migration and economic decline," said Janet Ayers, President of the Ayers Foundation.

The Ayers Foundation, a rootEd Alliance partner based in Tennessee, is a pioneer in college advising for rural students and one of the few organizations focused on promoting postsecondary and career success in rural areas.

"Rural students can have a tough time pursuing postsecondary pathways due to a lack of resources and opportunities in their communities," said Lexi Barrett, Associate Vice President at JFF, a national nonprofit that drives transformation in the American workforce and education systems. "Investments to strengthen rural postsecondary pathways, particularly at community colleges, is a critical step in supporting rural economic growth, which in turn ensures students in these areas have access to good jobs and career opportunities."

If passed, the Success for Rural Students and Communities Act would not only benefit rural-serving institutions of higher education – often community colleges – but also incentivize cross-sector collaboration, which is critical to ensuring that rural communities can grow together with their students.

"Collaboration across organizations and partners can accelerate locally-informed solutions that will best serve rural students and set them up for success," said Dr. Hal Higdon, Chancellor of the Ozarks Technical Community College System in Missouri, where rootEd Alliance is partnering to ensure more students can obtain a certificate or degree. "We're looking forward to seeing how this critical investment can translate into better outcomes for rural communities across the country."

About rootEd Alliance

rootEd Alliance launched in 2018 to address the most challenging obstacles to success after high school for students in rural America. rootEd Alliance partners with local and national organizations working to meaningfully improve postsecondary and career outcomes with advice, exposure and access to financial resources, so that all students in rural areas and towns can pursue their dreams. Together, these organizations form a holistic model that supports students starting in high school through college and beyond. rootEd Alliance is supported by BDT & Company and a group of family business owners and individuals committed to improving educational opportunity for rural students.