At the end of December, the Biden-Harris administration announced $44.5 million in grants to help high school students in rural areas access higher education.
The Rural Postsecondary and Economic Development (RPED) program is set to provide grants to 22 rural educational institutions. It focuses on providing a variety of career paths in high-wage and in-demand industries.
Rural communities are less likely to have younger generations enrolled in college. In rural parts of the country, just 29% of individuals aged 18-24 attend college or participate in higher education, according to the announcement. That’s compared to 48% of individuals the same age in urban areas and 42% in suburban areas.
"The grants announced today by the Biden-Harris administration reflect our commitment to empowering rural communities to build on their strengths, attract new investments, and prepare students for the high-skill, high-wage jobs of tomorrow," U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said.
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College enrollment increased in 2023 for the first time since the pandemic
College enrollment was up in 2023, according to a National Student Clearinghouse Research Center update. The pandemic saw a decline in enrollment, but undergraduate enrollment bumped up 2.1% this year.
Students are showing a preference for shorter-term degrees. Undergraduate certificate programs have grown by 9.9% while associate degrees grew 3.6%, the update said. Four-year degrees are up as well, but just by 0.9%.
The short-term path has led to growth in community college enrollment. Community colleges have seen a growth of 4.4% in enrollment. That’s up by 4.3% since the fall of 2021.
Demographically, universities are seeing a higher growth rate among communities of color. Black, Latinx and Asian students accounted for the most enrollment growth this past year, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research release.
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Other initiatives for higher education in rural areas
Other initiatives have been put into place in recent years to encourage rural communities to pursue higher education. Namely, the USDA partnered with the Community College Alliance for Agriculture Advancements to help rural students get the skills they need to work within their communities.
The partnerships provide training and resources to help them seek advanced careers in agriculture and rural economic development. Through internships and a large network, the USDA plans to help rural students get jobs and the skills necessary to work in their chosen fields.
"USDA works with rural communities to make sure people everywhere have the resources they need to access quality education and good-paying jobs," Acting Under Secretary Glendenning said. "That’s why we are finding new ways to work with our partners to ensure students have the tools they need to succeed in their coursework today so that they can thrive in their careers tomorrow."
The partnership will also help students interested in rural development on a national level. It’ll offer the ability to shadow staff within the Biden-Harris administration, such as staff members working with the Rural Partners Network.
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