• • Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho •

Improving Rural Hispanic Students’ Transition to College and Career

Ed Kissam – September 2015

Rural middle and high schools play an important role in preparing Hispanic students to access and successfully complete postsecondary education. Although the gap in academic performance between rural Hispanic and white students begins in elementary school, it grows as students move into middle and high school.

In Improving Rural Hispanic Students’ Transition to College and Career, researcher Ed Kissam uses data from the 2002-12 Educational Longitudinal Survey to examine specific factors associated with educational disadvantage among rural Hispanic students. He supplements this analysis with insights from focus group discussions with rural Hispanic students in Idaho to better understand why these students are falling behind their peers on the path to college and career. Based on this information, Kissam makes several recommendations that could not only help to close the attainment gap between rural Hispanic students and their white peers but could also improve outcomes for all rural students:

Increase the representation of Hispanic teachers and paraprofessionals in rural classrooms

Only five percent of Hispanic students’ English teachers and 10 percent of their mathematics teachers are themselves Hispanic. As such, it would seem that one obvious solution to increasing teachers’ responsiveness to parent and student needs would be to hire more Hispanic teachers and counselors. In rural areas with limited resources, however, increasing experimentation with paraprofessionals may be a more promising—and feasible—option.

Provide opportunities for Hispanic parents to help their children in school and collaborate with staff

Rural schools need to invest in helping limited-English Hispanic parents discover practical ways they can help children with schoolwork. Orientations for Hispanic parents can help them understand how to work with teachers to improve their children’s learning. This outreach needs to be authentic in order to overcome the often hidden undercurrent of cultural/ethnic tensions between English-dominant school staff and teachers and limited-English parents. In rural areas, a solution more immediate than hiring Hispanic teachers and paraprofessionals may be to recruit and train promotores—staff who provide families with advice, encouragement, and assistance in unfamiliar aspects of schools and their organizational culture. This approach has been used successfully for more than four decades in health campaigns and in the Migrant Education Program.

Increase opportunities for career counseling, exploration, and experiential learning

Career counseling and orientation are important in all schools but in rural communities, where there may be a narrower range of occupations represented in the local labor market, it is critical that schools invest in alternative opportunities to build students’ career awareness. Opportunities for expanded career exploration in rural areas include online counseling, career-oriented instruction, and a program of ongoing presentations by local leaders. Another key challenge is to help students learn more about different kinds of workplaces while simultaneously practicing their communications, analytical thinking, and teamwork skills within a real-world context. Work-study and internship programs can provide these opportunities. They are often few and far between in rural areas, but can be created through initiatives such as school and industry partnerships.

Additionally, dual-enrollment programs can help students prepare for careers and allow them to gain credits that can save time and money in both traditional and community college programs. In Idaho, the PTECH initiative is helping students gain experience and transition into in-demand postsecondary programs.

Unabridged Report

Making Dual Enrollment Work for Rural Students

Brad Mitchell – September 2015

There is compelling evidence that dual enrollment programs have a high return on investment. Students enrolled in these programs are more likely than their peers to graduate from high school, to enter college, and to graduate on time. When connected to college and career pathways that are relevant for students and their communities, dual enrollment can also help drive economic development.

In Making Dual Enrollment Work for Rural Students, Brad Mitchell of Battelle for Kids and the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho acknowledges that a comprehensive approach to dual enrollment can be difficult for rural states, which may lack the resources necessary to implement these programs, and offers a set of strategies for improving these programs.  Mitchell begins by addressing two central questions:

  • What is the state of dual enrollment nationally, in rural settings, and in Idaho?
  • What can states do to make dual enrollment work for rural students, their families, and local communities?

Mitchell finds that participation in dual enrollment programs has grown in recent years. This is in part because of state interest in dual enrollment: as of 2015, 47 states and the District of Columbia have dual enrollment programs on the books. Rural areas have seen the largest increase, with 12 percent growth in dual enrollment participation between 2003 and 2011.

Idaho requires all high schools to provide advanced opportunities, though student participation is voluntary. State-run programs allow students to take courses online or at their high school and offer discounted tuition rates that can translate to savings of up to $18,000 at state colleges or universities.

Unfortunately, dual enrollment programs often face challenges related to funding, logistics, and talent, which can make it difficult to expand access or to offer dual enrollment to high-need students. These challenges are exacerbated in rural areas.

In order to address these broad challenges, Mitchell believes that communities should look to three strategies that can help lead to the development of practical solutions:

  • Incorporate dual enrollment programs into local workforce and economic development strategies
  • Reconceive dual enrollment as a tool that can help students gain the competencies, credits, and credentials that they need for post-secondary success, whether in college or a career
  • Connect dual enrollment courses to blended learning options and the development of social and emotional learning skills that are essential for employers in order to help give students a path out of poverty

These strategies imply some specific steps for dual enrollment in Idaho. Mitchell recommends that dual enrollment programs in Idaho:

  • Place a greater focus on student motivation and success skills.
  • Encourage K-12, higher education, businesses, and civic leaders to collaborate on projects that advance educational and economic growth by integrating college and career pathways with dual enrollment.
  • Create shareable, job-focused dual enrollment courses relevant to Idaho’s needs.

Social Returns to Education: Strengthening Rural Economies

Paul A. Lewin and Willem J. Braak – August 2015

In Social Returns to Education, Paul Lewin of the University of Idaho and consultant Willem Braak look at how education and the accumulation of human capital contribute to the well-being of rural communities.

They first explore how the rural-urban knowledge gap has changed over the last forty years, uncovering regional patterns in the concentration of high school dropouts and rural college graduates. They then examine the economic health of rural communities, highlighting high-wage industries with low average educational attainment and regions that attract college graduates. Finally, they look at how rural communities can use education to improve the health of their local economy.

Lewin and Braak find that educational attainment in the U.S. has increased significantly since the 1970s. The once-large high school attainment gap that existed between rural and urban America narrowed to five percentage points by 2010. However, in rural areas such as the Deep South and some pockets of Idaho and the Dakotas, the average share of adults without a high school diploma is higher than the national average.

The college attainment gap between urban and rural counties has increased. In 1970, just over 10 percent of urban students earned a college diploma, compared to five percent of the most rural students. By 2010, those numbers had increased to 30 percent for urban students and 15 percent for the most rural students.

Lewin and Braak use high school and college attainment to look the health of the economy in rural counties, using per-capita personal income as an indicator of productivity. They show that counties with a large share of educated workers have higher per capita income and that the inverse is true for counties with a large share of high school dropouts.

Lewin and Braak identify a number of counties that prove exceptions to these rules. Some rural counties with high per capita incomes benefit from valuable natural resource industries, such as oil and gas. Other rural counties are home to land-grant universities, which often serve as hubs for economic growth and diversification. Lewin and Braak suggest that the latter finding is an example that educational policies should be used as drivers of innovation.

Counties that position themselves to attract the “creative class”—innovators, entrepreneurs, and knowledge-based workers—are also an exception to this rule. Often, rural counties cannot compete with metro areas and the amenities available there. However, rural counties in recreational areas—which can be found in the high-educational attainment pockets cited above—have natural amenities which attract the creative class. Though these communities have struggled with problems such as preservation and industry diversification, they have also become home to national businesses and remote workers.

Of course, rural counties cannot alter their natural resources to attract educated workers. However, Lewin and Braak believe that they can implement polices to help attract human capital and boost their local economy. They offer Idaho’s Latah County—home to a land-grant university, one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest jazz festivals, and other cultural events—as an example of a community which invests in activities that generate income from visitors and help make it attractive to educated workers.

In addition to these recommendations for attracting the creative class, Lewin and Braak have several recommendations that incorporate education into rural growth strategies:

  • Create connections between education providers (secondary, post-secondary) and local industries.
  • Encourage lifelong learning programs that help workers keep their edge in a changing economy.
  • Decentralize some services and technologies to encourage innovation and support local economies.

Op-Ed in the Idaho Statesman