Recruiting College-Level Classes to Rural Places

The Basic Idea:

Make college-level courses available in rural areas that lack a local community college, so people can access the education and skills they need to find and land higher-paid jobs.

How it works:

  • Network of local leaders in an area without its own college partners with a community college in a neighboring area to create a community college “without walls” that offers credit-earning, degree-qualifying classes.
  • Community college uses existing low-cost or free sites for class locations, such as high schools, hospitals, community centers, etc. This both keeps costs low and increases accessibility for students.
  • Network may also develop training courses to meet needs of local industries.
  • A broad consortium of local leaders supports courses by providing training sites, funding, equipment (e.g., for a welding or computer course), students – even instructors, in some cases.
  • Network helps connect people seeking new skills to access higher-paid jobs with employers seeking higher-skilled workers.

Who Does It?

Community partnership might include:

  • Local consortium – including leaders in economic development, education, health care, career development, business, social services and civic and religious organizations
  • Community college
  • Non-profit/community foundation


  • Retains existing workforce by providing local opportunities to get necessary skills to find higher-paying jobs.
  • Local sites reduce commuting distance for rural students, saving time and money.
  • Sites located in communities are more familiar and accessible than online courses or community colleges located in other areas.
  • Makes area attractive to businesses seeking a skilled workforce.


  • May encounter culture barrier in rural areas, where adult education has focused on basic literacy skills, a GED or getting a high school diploma.
  • Unless closely focused on offering classes that better equip workers for local jobs, may encourage participating students to leave the community, taking away from community viability.
  • Organizing the local consortium and advocacy effort to convince a neighboring community college partner to do this is usually the toughest and majority of work in this effort, and it can take anywhere from a few months to a few years of persuasion. But if classes fill up, the community college tends to carry on the program without prodding — in its own self-interest!

Simplicity Index

  • Bring opportunities home.  Communities work together to identify local educational opportunities that reduce costs for residents and help learning institutions and businesses grow.

Quilt It

  • Grow It – Individuals gain skills that advance their careers, helping them support their families and contribute to workforce development in their region.

Examples and Resources

Franklin County Community College Network (FCCCN) in Western Maine started organizing a consortium in 2005 that eventually led the Central Maine Community College to offer courses at five off-campus locations. Hundreds of students from remote rural areas have attended college classes in Franklin County, thanks to the removal of cost and distance barriers. Visit FCCCN online to learn more about their strategy for bringing educational and training opportunities to rural families.

The Rural Community College Alliance is a network and advocacy group that helps build the capacity community colleges that serve rural America.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to access and success in post-secondary education.  Visit IHEP online for related research and resources:

The Center on Rural Education and Communities (CREC) located in Penn State’s College of Education conducts and supports research and outreach activities that address rural education and community-related issues. Click to learn more:

US Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education (OCTAE) provides information about programs and initiatives aimed at improving secondary and technical education, community colleges and post-secondary education, as well as adult basic and literacy education. Click here to visit OCTAE online.

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) US Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education:

RuFES is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group.
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