Practical Strategies for Rural-Serving Community College Global Programming

Practical Strategies for Rural-Serving Community College Global Programming

Marc Thomas (Colorado Mountain College, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6252-8.ch016


Nearly two-thirds of all community college districts in the United States are defined as rural serving, as reported by the Rural Community College Alliance (2017), representing 37%—or more than 3 million—of community college students nationally. These rural districts often struggle to fund and develop global education activities. This chapter will identify promising practices employed by three rural-serving colleges to improve student global competence through international-education programming.
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The Rural Economic Landscape

Challenges faced by rural communities influence the ability of their local community colleges to thrive. Pennington, Williams and Karvonen (2006) reported continued economic barriers for rural communities, including educational attainment and declining tax revenues to support higher education. Gains in student completion in rural areas are happening but are not keeping pace with other geographic areas. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (2017) reported that rural areas are “converging with urban areas in the share of adults without a high school diploma or equivalent, but the share of adults with at least a bachelor’s degree is growing faster in urban areas” (p. 2).

The economic barriers rural colleges face often are compounded by heightened community expectations. Miller and Kissinger (2007) described the activities of these community colleges as being “felt more intensely in rural communities than in urban centers,” including playing a key role in leisure education from summer sports camps to international study programs (p. 28-29). Rural community colleges are expected to provide comprehensive programming to a relatively small number of students; the inefficiencies that accompany this demand prevent institutions from taking advantage of the economies of scale that benefit larger institutions (Williams et. al., 2007, p. 25).

The Rural Community College: Challenges

Financial stress is an often-cited reality of the rural community college. Pennington, Williams and Karvonen (2006) outlined the core challenge: “Rural community colleges are charged with providing comprehensive programs to a relatively small student population” (p. 642) spread over a large geographic area. Other research has emphasized the weakened agricultural economy as adversely affecting rural colleges. Howley, Chavis and Kester (2013) described “farm closures or consolidation, the movement of industry overseas, contracting labor markets, growing unemployment, declining tax bases and weakening infrastructure” as detriments to the rural community college bottom line.

The funding hurdles faced by the rural community college also contribute to other organizational challenges. Hicks and Jones (2011), in a comprehensive study of three rural community colleges, reported that recruiting and keeping qualified faculty and staff is a challenge for most institutions, “but it is acute for those located in rural areas” (p. 37).

Other challenges regularly cited as challenges for rural institutions include technology and the ability to compete with larger institutions’ success at providing online course delivery, an evolving mission from offering primarily transfer courses to increasing demand for workforce training, and a struggle to make the case of their remote academic programs to decision makers in the population center (Pennington et. al., 2006).

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