Rural-serving community colleges share successes at DREAM 2022

Rural colleges can act as the backbone of their communities, providing educational opportunities and vocational training to students and in many instances serving as a major local employer. ATD works closely with rural Network colleges to extend the opportunities they offer deeper into their communities, strengthen the student journey, and connect students to family-sustaining wages.

Last month, several colleges shared examples of rural excellence at DREAM 2022, ATD’s annual conference focused on student success and equity. Some of those practices and lessons learned are shared below.


Building data capacity with limited resources

In an exclusive session for Mississippi colleges in the ATD Network, ATD data coaches shared tips for building data literacy skills and essential cost saving strategies for their data needs in the face of finite resources. Some simple strategies included:

  • Conduct an inventory using existing data to report with institutional research (IR) to identify departments that do not yet have access to the report but could benefit from those data.
  • Consider filling vacant IR roles with data-literate staff from other areas of the college and training them to take on data roles as a deep knowledge of the college and its students is harder to train.
  • Know that nothing is a priority if everything is a priority. IR leaders can talk to the college president and other key decision-makers to figure out the college’s number one goal so data requests and strategies can build around targeting the top institutional priorities.

The discussions continued with ATD staff and Halifax Community College (HCC) discussing how to leverage the Postsecondary Data Partnership (PDP) metrics and reports to deepen understanding of the root causes of inequities in student outcomes. Staff from HCC, a small, predominantly Black institution located in rural North Carolina, talked about how the PDP accelerator course helped them understand “how to work with the data and correctly submit it at the state level.”

ATD Rural Resiliency Cohort


Strengthening pathways to opportunity within rural communities

Multiple national organizations, including ATD, Halifax Community College, Northwestern Connecticut Community College, Zane State College, and partners Education Design Lab and the Community College Research Center, collectively presented their work with rural colleges to strengthen pathways to opportunity for rural communities. A key insight shared was the importance of understanding their learners' lives and supporting their sense of belonging from the very beginning of their connection to college. Other insights included:

  • Future efforts should include a greater understanding of the diversity of learners within each community.
  • Marketing and outreach need to be targeted to subregions within the rural community college service area.
  • Flexible learning options are essential to rural learners. More work-based learning opportunities are critical to increase rural learner success.

ATD shared that part of this critical work is having an action orientation. Rural colleges in the ATD Network are successfully connecting with the communities they serve in a variety of ways: They are distributing gas cards to ease the burden of transportation costs, providing better access to broadband, expanding workforce development opportunities to connect rural students to employers through community partnerships, and making sure students are prepared for the future of work.

In a session spearheaded by Leech Lake Tribal College (MN), the focus was on how the student services office has successfully collaborated with their learning center director to better serve students with accessibility needs by providing educational support. They demonstrated how this student-centered approach can lead to increased academic success and retention.


Serving as a beacon of hope

Located in the heart of Appalachia, Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) works to serve as a beacon of hope for their most vulnerable community members, including those in recovery. SKCTC and partners embarked on a community-wide effort known as Paths 2 Promise (P2P) to create new avenues of opportunity for learners in addiction recovery, creating partnerships to provide tailored support to this population. The college partners with local agencies to identify and support students who have begun the recovery process. To build the community’s capacity to support those in or seeking recovery, the college also created an online, short-term Recovery Coach certificate with the option to apply this credential toward an associate and, eventually, a bachelor’s degree in counseling from one of the college’s educational partners.

During the session, SKCTC talked about how they are working to change the culture and attitude toward those suffering from substance addiction by putting students first. Presenters went on to explain that “we were able to work with our local drug corps, our community action agencies… locate government agencies that collaborate with folks in recovery... It’s one thing for them to take the plunge to free themselves from the addiction, but they also need education to sustain themselves or they will be right back in the same situation.”


Committing to continuing our collective learning

One-third of ATD Network colleges are rural. ATD will continue to help rural colleges drive integrative systems change that prioritizes the student. As we learn together, ATD will continue to elevate examples of how rural community colleges operate as hubs of opportunity and economic mobility for students and their families.

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