Rural community college students face more challenges: Study

VERSAILLES, Ky. (WTVQ)Rural community colleges and their students face a significant number of barriers, according to a new report by the American Association of Community College Trustees.

The most frequently cited challenges were access to high-speed internet, funding inequities and meeting students’ basic needs, particularly in the area of mental health.

To better understand the role community colleges play in supporting rural communities, from October 2019 to December 2020, ACCT visited rural campuses and conducted interviews virtually and in person with more than 500 individuals across five states: California, Kentucky, Iowa, North Carolina and Texas.

This included Hazard Community and Technical College (HCTC), which is one of the 16 colleges of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS).

Two-thirds of Perry County residents, one of the counties in which HCTC has a campus, have not completed education past high school, but Jennifer Lindon, president of HCTC, sees this as an opportunity.

One opportunity for engagement the college created is the Tuesday Night Live (TNL) program that begin in 2018.

Tuesday Night Live offers flexible hybrid courses, activities for children, free meals, tutoring and expanded hours for student services. Students enrolled in TNL take courses online that meet in-person just once a week, on Tuesday nights.

The program is designed to allow students to take a full 12-credit course load over two eight-week sessions. On Tuesdays, when students come to campus for class, they are encouraged to bring their children along with them. While parents are in class, children assist with healthy meal preparation.

During meals, faculty or volunteers make presentations on soft skills and share information about resources for students. After dinner while parents continue classes, receive tutoring or meet with student services, their children participate in activities and receive homework help.

In spring of 2018, 88 students were enrolled in at least one TNL class. Seventy-two percent (72%) of full-time students who enrolled in at least one TNL class passed all their courses.

In addition to highlighting successful programs around the nation, the report shows:

  • Without access to the internet at home, many students struggle to complete homework or access online learning materials — and lack of access to highspeed internet is as much a problem for faculty as it is for students.
  • Rural community colleges are currently tasked with stretching finite dollars to ever-increasing needs. Their demonstrated ability to do so has accorded them labels such as “nimble,” “innovative” and “scrappy.”
  • Disparities in mental health between rural and non-rural communities predated the pandemic and are likely to outlast it as well. The pandemic has very notably worsened the situation.

“Faculty and staff who work at our rural community colleges understand these challenges and others, such as lack of transportation and access to childcare,” KCTCS Interim President Paul Czarapata said. “We appreciate ACCT shining a spotlight on these issues and helping the public understand what rural communities face on a daily basis.

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System is the Commonwealth’s largest postsecondary institution with 16 colleges and more than 70 campuses.

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