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Education Design Lab launches Rural College Design and Data Academy

The Lab will convene 14 rural higher ed institutions across 11 states to develop skill-based programs aimed at creating new opportunities for rural learners and communities.

The Education Design Lab (the Lab) today announced the launch of its new Rural College Design and Data Academy.

What is the academy?

A cohort of 14 rural higher education institutions across 11 states will learn the Lab’s human-centered design process and will apply those learnings in the design of prototypes and pilots that build upon the Lab’s previous BRIDGES Rural design project. Also, participating institutions will evaluate their program’s impact on learners’ education, employment, and economic outcomes using the Lab’s Data Collaborative for a Skills-Based Economy (Data Collab) infrastructure. In addition, the Lab will provide implementation grants of up to $50,000, funded by Ascendium Education Group.

What’s the goal?

By designing for and prioritizing the needs of new majority rural learners, the cohort will not only design and implement new pathways to economic mobility — but also catalyze broad transformations across the postsecondary education-to-workforce landscape.

Why it matters

The education-to-workforce pipeline plays a critical role in rural communities across the country. However, rural-serving institutions often do not have the same access to state funding, infrastructure, and human resources as other institutions to provide innovative and responsive programs and supports for rural learners. Rural communities also account for 75% of people living in education deserts, or areas with one or fewer higher education institutions within 25 miles. Thus, rural learners often have inequitable postsecondary experiences that lead to lower college completion rates. It is therefore critical that higher education institutions take the necessary steps to make opportunities available to rural students to obtain skills needed to access meaningful employment.

“Rural communities are often overlooked, facing limited resources and systemic barriers to success in education and work,” said Dr. Leslie Daugherty, Senior Director of Design Programs at the Education Design Lab. “By harnessing the power of these emerging learning models, we’re embarking on a journey to design more equitable and career-driven routes to economic agility for rural learners nationwide.”

Meet the cohort

Using the Lab’s human-centered design process, participating rural postsecondary institutions will design and deploy transformative opportunities that address rural learner and community needs.

Institutions joining the Rural College Design and Data Academy include:

  • Shasta College, California
  • Allegany College of Maryland, Maryland
  • Coahoma Community College, Mississippi
  • Crowder College, Missouri
  • Northern Pennsylvania Regional College, Pennsylvania
  • Medical University of South Carolina + Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College, South Carolina
  • Motlow State Community College, Tennessee
  • Uintah Basin Technical College, Utah
  • Spokane Community College + Washington State University – Extension Ferry County, Washington
  • BridgeValley Community and Technical College, West Virginia
  • Nicolet College, Wisconsin
  • Northcentral Technical College, Wisconsin

“Through our partnership with the Education Design Lab, we’re not just envisioning a better future for rural learners– we’re actively building it,” said Dr. Jenni Martin, acting president of Spokane Community College. “The innovative models championed by the Lab encourage rural learners to pursue higher education options and pave the way for sustainable economic growth for rural communities.”


What’s next

Leslie explains why she’s so passionate about the rural initiative and what’s next in the process in this WorkingNation story about the academy.

Go deeper

Learn more about the Lab’s rural transformation work:

About the Lab

The Education Design Lab (the Lab) is a national nonprofit that co-designs, prototypes, and tests education-to-workforce models through a human-centered design process focused on understanding learners’ experiences, addressing equity gaps in higher education, and connecting learners to economic mobility. Learn more:

Read the news release on PRNewswire.


Note: This announcement was updated in May 2024 to add Nicolet College (Wisconsin) to the Rural College Design and Data Academy cohort. 

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