Education and the economy are inextricably linked and improving both is the rural imperative — a critical challenge facing our nation.
Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issued a challenge and made a promise to approximately 200 educators, business leaders, and federal, state, and local government officials, who came from as far as Alaska to attend the Education Commission of the States’ National Summit on the Role of Education in Rural America, held in Washington.
Secretary Duncan challenged rural America to send more young people and adults to universities and colleges, community colleges, trade schools, and other industry-recognized certification programs. Overall, rural schools have better high school graduation rates but lower college-going rates than other parts of the country.
Together, Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack promised that the Obama Administration will support rural students and emphasized their importance to America’s economic future.
This sounds pretty straight forward, but because rural students are less likely to enroll and complete postsecondary education, many rural youth and adults are not benefiting from college and career training opportunities.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 3.1 million job openings nationally but many industries are having trouble finding qualified employees in what has become a knowledge-based economy.
At the same time, there are new opportunities developing in rural America with new industries developing in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and technology. In fact, new companies are now engaged in “rural-sourcing,” actively recruiting employees to fill positions for companies that are finding it cost effective to locate in rural America.
To rebuild and reinvent rural economies, more youth and adults must access postsecondary education and turn an economic crisis into a once in a generation opportunity.
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John White is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach at the Department of Education