Rural communities in the US are as diverse as the geographies they represent. The education-to-workforce pipeline plays a critical role in these communities. Supporting rural learners along this pipeline requires identifying the role that place has in the learners’ experience and how rural community colleges fit into the broader community.
This first brief, in a series of publications on this project, will introduce the Lab’s BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge and makes the case for greater investment in rural community colleges. As we explore key barriers and opportunities in rural communities, we offer early insights from the project that will be used to inform the development of new models for rural colleges. We explain how our approach, based in human-centered design, will build the capacity of rural community colleges to respond to their regional labor markets and enable greater economic agility for their learners and communities.
How might we strengthen the capacity of rural community colleges to serve as critical economic growth engines for their learners and communities? In April 2020, with support from the Ascendium Education Group, the Lab launched the BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge, a multi-year initiative, to answer this question. Five community colleges were selected from across the country to participate. Each college brought together a team to work as part of a broader cohort and received an initial grant of $20,000 to support their work.
The Lab is leading a cohort of 5 rural community colleges in a multi-year initiative to create new pathways to postsecondary attainment and economic opportunity in rural communities.
The BRIDGES Rural Design Challenge will design, test, and scale postsecondary approaches that support the economic agility of rural learners and the capacity of rural community colleges to drive economic growth in their communities. The Lab will publish learnings and prototypes from this design challenge to both inform future investment in rural education-to-workforce approaches and to offer the field of rural community colleges actionable models and practices.