Rural America's Pathways to College and Career would not be possible without the support of dozens of colleagues, students and friends. At CFES (College for Every Student) Brilliant Pathways, Natan Arrazate, Rose Breen, Claire Carson, Karen Judge, Stephanie Senclair, Tara Smith, and Manny Tejeda provided technical support. My CFES colleague, Jon Reidel, wrote Chapter 7. Scott Thomas, Dean at the University of Vermont, wrote a sidebar in Chapter 4.
Ken Aaron, Jen Roberts, Kelly Hofschneider, Felicia Lee, and Katie Shepherd provided editorial support.
Thanks to the education stars from Crown Point Central School—Shari Brannock, Drew Malone, Tara Spaulding, Mitch St Pierre, Kristen Thorpe— for sharing their remarkable stories.
Richard Childers, Andrew Crain, Pete Emerson, John Fortune, Dreama Gentry, Chris Green, Gary Kuch, Dan Mannix, Judy May, Andrea McDonald, John McDonald, Dave Morell, Brogan Morton, Don Outing and dozens of others shared their pathway stories and wisdom.
Rural America Today
Rural Schools: A Hidden Crisis
Thirty years ago, any serious conversation about troubled schools in America would have evoked—accurately—an image of crumbling, underfunded inner-city schools and the underserved students struggling to learn in them. Conventional wisdom would have said the good schools were those supported by affluent taxpayers in the suburbs or rural schools (see Box 1.1 for a definition of "rural"), which, while lacking the wealth and resources of their suburban counterparts, boasted tight-knit, proud communities and students who were fiercely loved and supported by their families and neighbors.
But the situation is different today. While urban schools continue to face serious challenges, it is rural schools and communities that are now in crisis. Urbanization and economic shifts have drained rural economies and populations, leaving those remaining in rural communities with few financial resources or professional opportunities. Poverty and addiction have become part of the rural landscape. As a result, rural schools now struggle to attract qualified teachers or provide the resources needed to prepare their students to face the larger world. In particular, college readiness is a serious challenge for rural students, who face daunting obstacles—both financial and social—in attempting to pursue higher education.
While the challenges of rural schools have attracted relatively little public attention, they are every bit as urgent as those faced by urban schools. Rural communities desperately need creative new ways to support and grow their economies, and an educated population is
Box 1.1 Defining "Rural"
According to the United States Census Bureau, rural communities are defined as those places that are not urban and are less dense, with a sparse population (Ratcliffe et al., 2016). At CFES, we think of rural as communities with fewer than 15,000 residents. Other rural indicators include no broadband and the presence of a Dollar General store, which is becoming a symbol of rural poverty and isolation.
critical for making this happen. The talents of rural youth are all too often wasted in dead-end, unskilled jobs; a cure for cancer or solution to climate change may well be developed by a young person from a logging town in Oregon or a farming hamlet in Vermont if he or she only receives the necessary support and guidance to make it to, and through, college.
This book addresses the challenges and triumphs of rural schools and presents action steps that communities, families, and educators can take to support them and their students. The recommendations and strategies in this book are informed by my over 40 years of experience as an admissions director, researcher, and president of an educational nonprofit, CFES (College for Every Student) Brilliant Pathways.
This chapter provides the context for the rest of the book. I start with an overview of the challenges faced by rural communities, how they impact education, and why they matter. Next, I present a short introduction to my research and recommendations—in collaboration with other respected educators—on rural schools and improving college readiness. I then share the results of our first attempts to put the findings of our research into practice in rural schools and the evolution of our model for college readiness and support for schools.
While at times it might seem that the problems of rural schools and communities are insurmountable, rural America has many stories of hope and resiliency. Exciting ideas have emerged from rural communities— from simple but inspiring actions by intrepid teachers to young people returning after college to build tech startups in their communities. It is my hope that these stories will spark readers—whether educators, parents, or concerned community members—to contribute their own knowledge, resources, and creativity to help make college and career possible for every student.