Waiting in the Lexington, KY airport terminal for my flight home from the Rural College Access and Success Summit, I can’t help but reflect on the past few days meeting educators dedicated to rural issues.
I was heartened by the work of GEAR UP advisors from multiple states encouraging college aspirations among rural middle schoolers, but I was also reminded of the challenges our most remote counselors and students face, be it transportation issues, lack of curricular options, fewer students going on to college, or retention of teachers. For sure, unique barriers in rural spaces persist, and we must tackle them head-on.
But we also discussed the incredible assets of our rural students, namely their strong work ethic, reliance on tight-knit communities, close family relationships, and resilient attitudes. Despite being underrepresented on college campuses and seeing few admission officers in their communities, students in rural areas are going to college, albeit at lower rates than their suburban and urban peers.
It was a brilliant summit — bringing together counselors, teachers, superintendents, state policymakers, and college access organizations. Unfortunately, important voices were missing from these conversations. Chiefly, colleges themselves. By my rough count, just a handful of admission officers attended the 500+ person convening. We are working to change this.
A few months ago, Peggy Jenkins and I started the NACAC Rural and Small Town Special Interest Group to bring all folks to the table to prioritize rural college access, offer free resources and a network to CBO advisors and school counselors (many of whom have little to no professional development funds but incredible ideas), and to tap experts to share knowledge and best practices. We invite you to be part of this cause. Simply sign up to get started.
While I hope in my future travels to the rural summit and other college admission gatherings that all stakeholders are in the room, events like these can often be mere flashes in the pan. We want to do more.
By joining the SIG, you are helping to create sustainable dialogue and resources available to all rural-serving professionals. It’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Andrew Moe is the associate director of admissions and director of access at Swarthmore College (PA). He is a co-leader of NACAC’s Rural and Small Town SIG.