It’s no secret that community colleges are leading the way to achieving the President’s goal for the United States to once again have the highest college attainment rate in the world by 2020. Community colleges are hubs for career-training, re-training, adult education and for recent high school graduates seeking a pathway into the careers of their choice.
For many residents of rural areas, community colleges also provide the closest access to postsecondary education and a way to obtain the skills needed for existing jobs. However, like some of their students, many rural community colleges are doing more with less as state budgets are being cut and new resources are becoming harder to find.
During the 2011 rural community colleges conference in Oklahoma, many attendees asked about funding and resources available from the Department of Education but few were as familiar with opportunities in other federal agencies. Some rural community college administrators were unaware of the significant infrastructure of support available through their USDA Rural Development state and local offices.
As the American Jobs Act languishes in Congress, preventing an infusion of $5 billion for modernization from reaching community colleges, the U.S. Departments of Education and Agriculture are working together to guide campuses serving high-poverty rural communities to existing federal resources.
During a recent conference call with members of the Rural Community College Alliance and the American Association of Community Colleges, nearly 100 participants learned about USDA Rural Development programs and funding opportunities that can be used to improve facilities, support distance learning, and provide home ownership assistance as a recruitment and retention tool for faculty.
The USDA Community Facilities Program can be used for construction and renovation of classrooms and dormitories, and even to purchase transportation vehicles to serve campus facilities. The USDA Single Family Housing Programs provide homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income rural Americans through several loan, grant, and loan guarantee programs.
USDA Distance Learning and Telemedicine grants can cover the cost of equipment for video conferencing and other distance learning equipment. USDA’s Community Connect program provides grants to build broadband Internet infrastructure and establish community centers to offer free public access in rural areas where broadband service is least likely to be available, but where it can make a tremendous difference in the quality of life for citizens.
These are a few of the ways that USDA can support rural communities, and the Department of Education is working to increase awareness of how college leaders can access these opportunities.
- Click here (pdf) for examples of USDA Programs that can be useful to rural community colleges.
- Contact your USDA Rural Development State Office [http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/StateOfficeAddresses.html]
John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach