Rural Perspectives: Enhancing Education and Training Support for Rural Residents

Postsecondary & Workforce

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Rural communities are not a monolith; their diversity creates unique assets and opportunities that require unique policy solutions. One of the best ways to understand the diversity of those challenges — and, in turn, identify the most effective solutions — is to hear directly from rural residentsIn June 2021, Education Commission of the States released a Special Report that summarized responses from a 2020 Strada Education Network/Gallup survey on the perceptions of postsecondary education and training in rural areas.  

In general, rural respondents answered favorably when asked about motivations for past and future education and indicated perceived value in further education and training. However, most rural respondents indicated they would not pursue additional education and training in the next five years, in part, because of the identified barriers — including COVID-19, cost and uncertainty in career pathways.  

Knowing that employment opportunities and the workforce industry will continue to shift to fields that require more technical skills, there is a need to support individuals in accessing postsecondary education and training to obtain relevant degrees and credentials. Given this reality, you may wonder how policymakers can support an inclusive and accessible postsecondary education and training system that helps people enter and thrive in the workforce. 

Based on the analysis conducted by Education Commission of the States, a series of considerations and questions emerged for further exploration.  

    • Identify and support rural serving institutions in meeting unique student and community needs. 
      • What role do rural serving institutions play in providing nonacademic supports, including emergency stipends, housing, food and child care, to students in support of their education and training, and how can they engage community partners to provide these supports?  
    • Consider the needs and opportunities for rural students on their learning journey. 
      • What obstacles persist as barriers to postsecondary education for different learners? 
      • What education and career paths exist in rural communities, and how are those pathways shared with rural students? 
      • As policies are considered, what are the impacts on specific populations and geographies, including geographic (rural, urban, suburban) and demographic (race, ethnicity, age, income, gender) characteristics?  
    • Create alignment between education and training programs, economic and labor market demands and personal needs and expectations for education. 
      • What data sources exist in your state to inform needs and demands in local or regional labor markets? 
      • Which stakeholders can inform the education and training programs that support people in meeting their education and career needs? 

The circumstances of rural communities can serve as a guide for the development of policy responses. ECS has engaged a few states in discussions about how to support the unique needs of rural students. As your state continues to seek ways to support rural students in their journey, we are here to support your exploration and policy discussions. 

Check out the Rural Matters Podcast for additional discussion and insights from rural students. In addition to ECS resources, supported by Ascendium Education Group, Ascendium’s work to form and advance a National Rural Postsecondary Research Agenda can serve as an ongoing guide of timely research questions to support policymakers and institutional leaders in better understanding rural learners and institutions.  

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States | tkeily@ecs.org

As a senior policy analyst, Tom contributes to the work of the policy team on issues across the education spectrum. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Tom taught middle school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Tom is dedicated to providing state policymakers with quality research that supports them in making a positive impact on students' lives.

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Senior Policy Analyst at Education Commission of the States

As a senior policy analyst, Meghan works on K-12 accountability and early childhood education, among other P-20 education policy topics. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Meghan spent six years at the National Conference of State Legislatures, focusing on human services policy, and earlier, at the Colorado General Assembly as a legislative aide. Meghan believes that education has a tremendous impact on, and is greatly influenced by, other governmental systems, including child welfare, public assistance, housing and health.

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