The COVID-19 health crisis created numerous challenges for community colleges across the United States. Rural community colleges in particular faced declines in enrollment, financial pressures and a general lack of resources tailored toward rural communities. Much like the resilient people that live, work and learn in rural communities, rural community colleges have also remained resilient, responding to the health crisis in innovative and impactful ways.
Just this month, the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement (NCII) released the Rural Community College Leader Series. Funded by a $432,500 grant from Ascendium, this series provides recommendations to rural community college leaders on how rural institutions can overcome challenges and remain focused on students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 health crisis.
During the initial stages of the project, NCII engaged with leaders from over 20 rural community colleges and organized the formation of the Rural Community College Leader Community to develop the recommendations. This group focused on institutional challenges and responses to the health crisis in a rural context, while also helping institutions consider how to restructure and innovate after the health crisis — all while ensuring student success was centered in the institution’s decision making.
A $535,000 grant from Ascendium provided the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges with the opportunity to build and implement a new statewide training program in conjunction with the state’s community college system and regional employers. This program will be designed to prepare rural Maine residents for success in remote working roles — which have become more common because of the COVID-19 health crisis.
Many low-income rural residents lack the technical remote working skills needed to be competitive in accessing high-wage, high-mobility jobs across Maine. To help bridge that gap, the Foundation will be working closely with the Maine Community College System to launch a new workforce training division that will allow learners to obtain additional skills and prepare them for work in the future.
The grant also supports that new division, known as the Center for the Advancement of Maine’s Workforce, in creating an employer-driven Maine Advisory Council on Remote Working. Leading with an employer lens and supported by Maine’s community colleges, advocates of the program are hopeful that a scalable, cross-sector model for delivering training for rural residents will help unlock social mobility associated with high-growth roles in in-demand fields.
These are just a couple of examples of how Ascendium invests in efforts to improve collaboration and partnerships to support rural learners. Our philanthropy elevates rural postsecondary education and workforce training, investing in projects that support solutions and provide resources to help rural community colleges and their students succeed.