Teaming Up to Support Rural Community Colleges

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.

Secretary Duncan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and their agencies are working together to support community colleges as they provide postsecondary education and career training in rural areas. Photo courtesy of USDA.

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.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Investing Early: One of the Smartest Things We Can Do

Race to the Top-Early Learning Announcement

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

“This is an important moment in our effort to build a world-class education system in America,” Secretary Duncan said this morning at a White House event to announce the winners of the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge (RTT-ELC). Duncan joined HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes in announcing the nine states that had won.

“Everyone who works in education can agree that investing in early learning is one of the smartest things we can do,” Duncan said. “Whether it’s elementary school teachers or prize-winning economists, they recognize that high-quality early learning programs pay dividends down the road.”

Thirty-five states, D.C. and Puerto Rico submitted plans for the Challenge, and today’s event announced the nine winners: California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington.

White House Event

Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover

“We believe progress like this won’t be limited to the nine states awarded funds today,” Secretary Sebelius said. “By pushing everyone to raise their game, we intend to foster innovation in early childhood programs around the country. And I look forward to following their progress in the months and years ahead.”

The RTT-ELC will support these states in developing new approaches to raising the bar across early learning centers and to close the school readiness gap. Awards will invest in grantees’ work to build statewide systems of high-quality early learning and development programs. These investments will impact all early learning programs, including Head Start, public pre-K, childcare, and private preschools.

Click here to read today’s press release, and visit ED’s Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge website.

Sign up to receive email updates from ED’s Early Learning Initiative.

#AskArne Twitter Town Hall Kicks Off American Education Week

Twitter Town Hall

Secretary Duncan talks with John Merrow during the first #AskArne Twitter Town Hall in August 2011. (Official Department of Education photo by Paul Wood)

To kick off American Education Week, Secretary Duncan will be participating in an #AskArne Twitter town hall today at 5pm ET. You can watch the town hall live on ED’s official ustream channel. Veteran education journalist John Merrow will moderate the discussion based on your #AskArne questions from Twitter.

If you can’t watch the town hall live, you can still ask questions any time before the event by using the hashtag #AskArne on Twitter. Video from the town hall will be archived on ED’s website, and check back to this blog for a summary, or sign up to receive blog updates by email.

Follow @ArneDuncan on Twitter, and click here to see all of ED’s social media accounts.

Rural Recruits: College and Careers Available

Even in a remote rural community like Altus, Okla., there are clear connections between education and the economy.

Pilot Javier Orama

Captain Javier Orama

During a recent visit to the Air Education and Training Command at Altus Air Force Base, I was reminded of a question I hear occasionally: “Why should rural students go to college when there aren’t many jobs in their communities?” I often wonder how different these communities would be if more youth and adults pursued college and other postsecondary career training opportunities.

Nationally, rural students are less likely to go to college than their peers from urban and suburban areas. At the same time, many rural communities need skilled workers more than ever to fill existing jobs, to attract new employers, and to cultivate entrepreneurship as a means for reinventing their local economies.

Even rural youth considering joining the military will need to continue their education beyond high school.

Altus AFB prepares military personnel for a variety of careers. The Air Education and Training Command provides classroom instruction complemented by computer-based training, and individual tutoring for Airmen in a variety of fields. The base even developed a “grow-your-own” mechanics program.

After climbing inside the enormous C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft during my visit, Captain Javier Orama emphasized the demand for math and technology skills in today’s Air Force.

“The C-17 is a flying computer. In fact, it’s many different computers,” he said.

Captain Orama is a pilot and an instructor for pilots training to fly the C-17 on airlift and refueling missions. The C-17 is a flexible, high-tech aircraft that can refuel in-flight and continue its mission indefinitely. If you dream of flying like Captain Orama, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. Officers are generally required to be college or university graduates. College and career-level training is also a prerequisite for loadmasters and mechanics supporting the C-17 missions.

More U.S. military personnel come from rural areas than any other parts of our nation. And like private industry, the armed services are also looking for a highly skilled workforce.

Rural young people and adults need access and encouragement to pursue postsecondary education and training programs to lift up their families and communities, and our nation needs them to aim high.

John White is Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach

Mentor Helps Native American Student Overcome Prejudice

Nellie Two Elk, a political science student at South Dakota State U.

"My passion lies in coming back to help," says Nellie Two Elk, a political science student at South Dakota State U.

Nellie kept a room full of 450 Indian Educators captivated as she shared what it was like to spend her first 5 years of life in Washington, DC and then move back to the Rosebud Indian Reservation as her father’s job changed.

At the South Dakota Indian Education Summit in Chamberlain, S.D. in late September, she explained, “In Washington, DC I never felt the effects of racial prejudices, but when I moved back to South Dakota, I felt that prejudice from my Native American peers, even though I am Native American.”

According to Nellie, her lighter toned skin and her lack understanding of their challenges set her apart as an “apple” and “white,” so she was not accepted by her classmates. Her pain was apparent as she shared, but what really struck me was how Nellie was able to triumph over her difficulties through the support and mentoring of her father.

“My father taught me that pride in my identity is a good thing and instilled many virtues in me,” she said. The importance of a mentor role in the lives of young people was heard repeatedly throughout the Summit, and Nellie’s story gave a first-hand account of the impact that relationship can have on young lives.

The theme for this year’s Summit was “Supporting Culture, Building Expectations, Creating Partnerships.” Participants celebrated this theme partly by adopting the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards that were created earlier this summer by the state Board of Education. This work will provide the roadmap for educators all across the state to teach the culture and history of South Dakota’s Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people to promote understanding of the culture to help students like Nellie. Teachers spoke about how these Essential Understandings will help our Native American youth to develop the pride in identity that Nellie spoke so eloquently about.

Nellie, now 20 years old, is studying Political Science at South Dakota State University, and although she is away from the Reservation while in college, her goal is to return and try to help in whatever ways she can. “My passion lies in coming back to help,” Nellie shared.

After hearing her moving story, I look forward to seeing what this amazing young woman will do during her life.

Sharla Steever

Sharla is a 2011-2012 Classroom Teacher Ambassador Fellow from Hill City, S.D.

Read another post by Sharla about Indian education and the Rosebud Reservation.

ED’s Office of Indian Education

Bureau of Indian Education

Native Americans Tell Duncan About the Need for Reform

Arne is honored to receive a star quilt from Rosebud Elementary School.

Arne is honored to receive a star quilt from Rosebud Elementary School.

Todd County high school student body president Grace One Star spoke eloquently during a meeting with education leaders concerned about American Indian achievement.

“It’s the lack of hope around us that makes us turn to gangs and the bad things some of us get involved in,” Grace said during the Aug. 26 Rural and Indian Education Roundtable at Rosebud Elementary in the Black Hills of South Dakota “We need our teachers and leaders to bring us hope, not more brand new textbooks.”

During the discussion, teachers, leaders, and families from rural areas spoke about issues of extreme poverty, unemployment, and the heartbreaking loss of culture and language taking place on the reservations. In particular, they spoke about the challenge of recruiting and retaining quality teachers and leaders in their economically depressed and remote area.

Secretary Arne Duncan listened and affirmed the need for the federal government to increase their interest in education on Reservation schools, and for the schools to help retain the native language and culture and to recruit and retain great teachers and leaders.

After participating in the roundtable discussion, Duncan attended the commencement at Sinte Gleska University in Mission, South Dakota. It was the first time that a U.S. Secretary of Education has given the commencement address at a Tribally Controlled University.

As Secretary Duncan and other state and federal officials entered the room, a drum circle and tribal royalty danced them in. Duncan welcomed the crowd in Lakota, the native language of the Rosebud Sioux people, and spoke about the importance of the Four Virtues of the Lakota: Wisdom, Bravery, Fortitude, and Generosity. “Education is the key to Lakota future,” Duncan said. “The Lakota must speak the Lakota vision.”

Sharla Steever

Sharla Steever is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow from Hill City, South Dakota.

Link to the Rural Education Resource Center

Back-to-School Bus Tour: Highlights from Tuesday, September 6

Dr. Kanter with Monroe Community College students

A day before the official start of the Back-to-School Bus Tour, several Department officials hit the road early for events in Ohio and New York.  Here are some highlights:

Cleveland Middle School Helps Put ED Tour in Motion
Acting Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Michael Yudin got fit with students at a Cleveland-area National Blue Ribbon School, during exercises led by the Cleveland Browns’ mascot, and other guests.  Read the full post.

Students “Strive” for College and Career Success
In Rochester, New York, Under Secretary Martha Kanter spoke with students, teachers, and state and local partners at Monroe Community College, as part of the area’s Cradle-to-Career/Strive Network Forum.  Read more about the event and the Strive Network, a grassroots partnership to provide the region’s students with a roadmap to excel in school, earn a high school diploma, and attain an associate or bachelor’s degree.  The Rochester group aims to match the momentum of a nearby effort in Buffalo, funded by a Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods grant.

Classes Get a High-Tech Boost in Rural New York
Director of Rural Outreach John White celebrated the first day of school at Cuba-Rushford Central School, in upstate New York.  He joined middle-schoolers using interactive technologies to study the three branches of government, and high school students in a Fisheries and Wildlife Technology Class, planning research projects that integrate math, science, English and computer technology.  From managing their own trout hatchery, to using radio telemetry applications to track whitetail deer, students gain STEM skills through hands-on applications.  Check out this innovative classroom.

You can follow the progress of this year’s back-to-school tour by visiting, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter and by signing up for email updates from the Department of Education.

Back-to-School Bus Heads to the Great Lakes

During last week’s #AskArne Twitter Town Hall, Sarah, a third grade teacher, asked if it is possible for Arne to “tour and sponsor real town halls with educators.” This week, ED announced that Secretary Duncan and his senior staff will be holding more than 50 such events next week.

Secretary Duncan stops in New York during last year's back-to-school bus tour.

Starting on Wednesday, September 7, Secretary Duncan and senior ED staff will head to the Great Lakes Region for a Back-to-School Bus Tour. Arne will be making stops in Pittsburgh, Erie, Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, Merrillville, Ind., Milwaukee and Chicago, and senior ED officials will be hosting dozens of events throughout the Midwest. The theme of the tour is “Education and the Economy: Investing in Our Future.”

Arne will be meeting with educators and talking with students, parents, administrators, and community stakeholders. Among the topics that Secretary Duncan and senior staff will discuss include the Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, K-12 reform, transforming the teaching profession, civil rights enforcement, efforts to better serve students with disabilities and English Language Learners, Promise Neighborhoods, the Investing in Innovation (i3) fund, STEM education, increasing college access and attainment as well as vocational and adult education.

Click here for additional details on Secretary Duncan’s back-to-school bus tour stops.

You can follow the progress of this year’s Back-to-School tour right here at the ED Blog, by following #EDTour11 on Twitter, and by signing up for email updates from ED and Secretary Duncan.

You Teach Where?

Sharla Steever

Yes, that is the response I receive almost every time I meet someone from a large urban area and try to explain where I live and teach. We really do have schools in South Dakota, and it is one of the most beautiful places on earth in my opinion.

I have lived my entire life in rural SD, both on the rolling plains of the central and eastern parts of the state and in the amazing Black Hills of the far western region.

I currently live and teach in the small artsy community of Hill City, SD — the school district for Mount Rushmore. I love the diversity of our tiny town. We have families that homesteaded here and have lived off the land all of their lives, wealthy retired people, young families that enjoy the small town life we offer but work in the larger community of Rapid City, and a large for our area Latino population. A local sawmill and the logging industry make up a large number of our employed population, as well as tourism. Our little school (450 K-12) is approximately 45% free and reduced lunch, and 25% Latino.

One thing that I have always felt strongly about is that I want to know that my students in my little classroom are getting the same kind of quality education that they could get in other schools across the U.S. I became Nationally Board Certified for that very reason — to push myself to be a teacher that could offer a world-class education to every student that walks through my door.

It is also why I am so excited to be a Teaching Ambassador Fellow this year. I am so inspired to know that the U.S. Department of Education is interested in the issues that face regions like my rural state, just as they are interested in the many other kinds of issues for urban and suburban areas. I am humbled and very excited to serve in this capacity this year and know that the growth I will gain this year will help me continue to be a leader not only in my school, district and state, but also at the national level.

I can’t wait for the adventures that await me this year.

Sharla Steever
NBCT – 4th Grade Teacher
Hill City Elementary

Rural and Tribal Youth Discuss Education Through Their Eyes

“I’d like to find a better way to help the people, not just cure the pain, but heal their lives.”
-Adam Strong, 20
YouthBuild Hazard (Jackson, KY)

Last week Secretary Arne Duncan’s conference room was filled with a unique crowd of delegates from YouthBuild USA Rural and Tribal Initiative.  The conversation between Secretary Duncan and the students was part of an ongoing Student Voices series where Duncan meets with students from around the country. This particular meeting focused on learning from rural and tribal youth about their experience and how ED’s policies can better help them achieve their potential.

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

YouthBuild USA, is a program where low-income students rebuild their lives and communities by getting their high school diploma or GED, while working full time.

The student’s spoke of dreams, challenged by sobering realities. Students told Arne about their difficulties with transportation, finding money and information to continue their education, their family demands and personal struggles. They were happy to come to Washington D.C. so that the Secretary could “hear our stories.”

These youth want to build their ability to make a difference for themselves and for those they care about.

Adam Strong, Graduate of YouthBuild Hazard in Jackson, KY, told of growing up in a community where prescription drug addiction runs rampant.

Adam’s response?  He will pursue a degree in pharmacy at North Shore Technical College to help doctors become more aware of the severe consequences of the over prescription of drugs.

“It’s OK for people to take pain medicine,” Adam said. “Just not every day.” He explained to Secretary Duncan that “education not only gives me the tools necessary to accomplish these goals but has helped me articulate my own vision of the world and how it should be.”

(Official Department of Education Photo by Joshua Hoover)

Arne leaned forward to really listen to these young people. He asked questions and answered them freely. “This is informal,” he said, “tell me what you have on your minds.”

“What about if we go to college and then there are no jobs?” asked Reva Little Moon from Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

“That’s a little tough today, but it’s about learning to see things long term,” said Arne. “You have to look over the horizon. We’re working on a lot of things here to make things better.”

These youth leaders are creating thoughtful solutions, despite the challenges they face. They came to Washington to express their concerns and to spell out their triumphs. They were heard.

Check our rural engagement or YouthBuild for ways to get involved.

Samuel Ryan is a Program Specialist at the U.S. Department of Education. 

FFA at White House Rural Economic Forum

“I was an FFA member back in the day” … “Some of my greatest memories are as a student in a rural setting” … “We believe in the future of agriculture and in students like you.

Comments like these were common from White House Staff, business leaders and attendees at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum held at Northeast Iowa Community College on August 16. State FFA Officers from Wisconsin, Missouri, Iowa and Illinois joined rural advocates, small business owners, cabinet members, my national FFA officer teammate, Wyatt DeJong, and me in a discussion focusing on rural America.

Riley Pagett and Wyatt DeJong at the White House’s Rural Economic Forum

The day was a success in developing ideas for effective rural communities, recruitment to such areas and other issues involving rural persons and businesses. The day also marked a great step forward for the American education system. People became more aware of the importance of education of people of all ages from all walks of life through breakout sessions. Business and industry leaders, staff, cabinet members and others brainstormed ideas in which we could enhance rural America – educational standards, increased broadband coverage, and opportunities for students to return to production agricultural areas and family farms were topics covered. Thoughts in the breakout sessions were solidified during President Obama’s remarks to the group.

“It’s always a mistake to bet against America. It’s always a mistake to bet against the American worker, the American farmer, the American small business owner, the American People,” President Obama said. As the President wrapped up the rural economic development forum, he said he has confidence in our nation’s economic recovery and is encouraged by what he saw on his trip through rural Iowa and Minnesota.

His comments seemed to motivate attendees and summed up the day. He explained that the future direction of the Rural Council is to support the work done that day and the work of rural people he had encountered during his term.  He thanked “the future farmers” for our commitment to young people, agriculture, education and rural America.

To me, his comments spoke highly of today’s youth and of what we had achieved that day in Iowa – awareness, need for opportunity in rural areas and a sense of community among all.

Riley Pagett
Oklahoma student
2010-11 National FFA President

Join ED’s John White for #EDRuralChat

The U.S. Department of Education’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach, John White, will host the agency’s first Twitter Rural Forum at #EDRuralChat on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 3-3:30 p.m. EDT.  Beginning today, Twitter users can submit questions on rural education to the Deputy Assistant Secretary using the hash tag #EDRuralChat.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan held the Department’s first Twitter Town Hall event of any kind on Aug. 24, 2011.  Thousands of Twitter users submitted #AskArne questions, and Duncan answered a range of tough questions during a town hall conversation moderated by journalist John Merrow.

The Department of Education uses several Twitter accounts to share information and converse with the education community and the American people. Click here for a complete list of ED’s Twitter accounts.

For general news and information about ED, follow @usedgov. To keep up-to-date with Secretary Duncan, follow @ArneDuncan. Justin Hamilton, ED’s Press Secretary, can can be found at @EDPressSec, and Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach, shares information and converses with stakeholders, teachers and parents at @ED_Outreach.

Linda Hall
Office of Communications and Outreach