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How to apply for the Rural College Practitioner Design and Data Academies

Please submit your expression of interest no later than Jan. 26, 2024.



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.



The Rural College Practitioner Design and Data Academies will provide a unique opportunity for up to 12 rural colleges to learn the Lab’s human-centered design process and apply those learnings in the design of prototypes and pilots that build upon the BRIDGES Rural design project.

Each institution will also have the opportunity to receive a $50,000 incentive grant for pilot implementation and sustainability.


Emerging models of interest

Throughout the last few years, many innovative approaches emerged in remote and rural spaces, both through the work of the institutions in the Lab’s BRIDGES project, as well as work coming from our partners and experts in this space. The hope of the academies is to build upon those emergent strategies and design new pilots and prototypes tailored to the unique needs of your rural learners and your rural community.

Applicants will be asked to rank their interest in exploring the following emerging areas:

Earn + Learn Models
Earn-and-learn programs are essential in rural areas where there is often no choice between attending classes or going to work. Designing in this emergent area will include employer engagement and curriculum development focused on the combination of classroom instruction and paid work experience that allows learners to gain valuable skills while simultaneously earning a paycheck.

Micro-communities + Place-Based Marketing Strategies
Rural colleges service large, geographical areas and often are unable to understand the needs of their more remote “micro-communities.” Designing in this emergent area will include a deep dive into communities outside of the “home” campus and focus on the creation of place-based programming and marketing strategies for those communities who often feel disconnected from opportunities offered by the institution.

Community Ecosystem Alignment
Learner and community support systems needed at rural colleges are not that different from their urban and suburban counterparts, however, they often need additional support and resources to bring these systems to life. Designing in this emergent area will include building ecosystem maps to identify how different community-based organizations, employers, and industries can work together, with the college, to better serve their community as a whole as they move toward a sustainable, thriving community.

Rural Grow Your Own Pathways
Grow Your Own Pathways are critical to ensuring that schools, hospitals, and other essential rural services continue to grow and attract new professionals. Designing in this emergent area will include a better understanding of the professional shortages in the rural service areas, and institutions will work to create strategies and pilot programs to start locally in preparing the next generation of teachers, healthcare providers, and more.

Data Culture + Capacity
Rural colleges across the country have varying data capacities, which can limit their ability to serve low-income learners, understand the efficacy of their programs, and measure the impact of those programs on learners’ education, employment, and economic mobility. Designing in this emergent area will include the creation of a whole college data strategy that will aid the institution as it moves to participate in the Lab’s Data Capacity Academy, a program designed to help colleges develop stronger data capabilities and create a more inclusive data culture throughout their campus and community.


The goals of the Rural Design and Data Academies are to:

  • Provide access to the Lab’s human-centered design academy with tools and resources that support change management and transformation throughout the learn-and-earn ecosystems.
  • Support deeper learning of rural education and workforce issues that emerged from the work of BRIDGES Rural colleges. See our latest design insights brief.
  • Develop and iterate on prototypes to address critical components of rural college transformation.
  • Participate in the Lab’s Data Collaborative for a Skills-Based Economy (Data Collab) to collect and analyze efficacy data for noncredit/alternative programs.
  • Build asset-based narratives of rural learners and communities to help increase and sustain investments in rural higher education.


The Design and Data Academies will engage participants in a variety of activities, including, but not limited to:

  • Online and in-person learning modules on human-centered design.
  • Online and in-person learning on data-informed decision-making.
  • Access to experts in rural education and workforce.
  • Opportunities to present and learn from other Academy participants.
  • Support to develop and implement prototypes.


The Design and Data Academies will include the following support:

  • Peer mentoring and coaching
  • Individual data coach
  • Multiple Lab designers
  • Access to Rural Community of Practice spaces
  • Lab’s communication team


Colleges that meet the following criteria are eligible to apply for the Academies:

  • Located in a rural area.
  • Committed to learning and applying equity-centered design principles.
  • Committed to collecting and connecting data across functions and departments.
  • Interested in learning and experimenting with new approaches to rural college transformation.
  • Willing to commit to participating in all aspects of the Academies.

Timeline and commitment

The Academies will run for 18 months, from February 2024 to August 2025.

Teams should consist of three college team members who represent a diverse set of stakeholders.

Teams interested in the Data Culture and Capacity should include at least one member of the institution’s IR or data teams.

Teams will participate in (all relevant travel, conference fees, and accommodations will be provided through the grant):

  • Two national convenings in Spring 2024 and Fall 2025.
  • One in-person design session on their campus.
  • Monthly (virtual) design sessions with Lab designers, rural experts, and other leaders in the field.
  • One to two opportunities to present and learn at local and national conferences and convening.
  • Various earned media opportunities, such as blogs, podcasts, and other storytelling opportunities.

Application process

Interested colleges should complete the following expression of interest form that includes the following information:

  • A description of which Academy areas the institution is interested in exploring and how it aligns with the college’s mission and goals.
  • A description of the three college (or community) members who will participate in the Academy, including their roles and responsibilities.
  • An understanding of how the institution thinks about innovation and design as emergent strategies in co-designing equitable solutions for their communities.
  • A brief description of how the college currently collects and tracks noncredit and workforce data.

Application timeline

  • The Expression of Interest will be released on Dec. 1, 2023, and will be collected until Jan. 26, 2024.
  • All institutions reaching the second round will be contacted for an interview the week of Jan. 29, 2024.
  • Institution selection and confirmation of acceptance will begin on Feb. 13, 2024.

Selection process

Proposals will be reviewed by a selection committee composed of representatives from the Lab and other stakeholders in rural higher education. The selection committee will consider the following factors when making its decisions:

  • Alignment with the goals of the Academy
  • Strength of the college’s team
  • Commitment to implementation and sustainability

To apply

Please submit your expression of interest no later than Jan. 26, 2024.

Fill out the form


Questions? Email Dr. Leslie Daugherty, Head of Design Programs, at