IMPERIAL VALLEY, Calif. — The pandemic has worsened problems facing rural community colleges, but also has led to more focus and funding to solve them, according to a new report.
Researchers with the Association of Community College Trustees found the digital divide put students at a huge disadvantage for distance learning.
Rachel Rush-Marlowe, senior program manager at the Association and author of the report, said rural community colleges have put the millions flowing from the CARES Act to good use.
“So a lot of institutions have been using their COVID relief funds to provide laptops to students, hotspots, and create stronger broadband on campus so that students and community members can come and use that campus as a free Wi-Fi location,” Rush-Marlowe outlined.
Several rural community colleges sit near the border with Oregon or Nevada, so the report encouraged the state to give colleges more flexibility to attract students across state lines.
Several institutions find themselves having to meet students’ basic needs for food and shelter.
Feather River College in Quincy took advantage of special permitting rules to build an on-campus dorm, and Imperial Valley College has built tiny homes for students experiencing homelessness and runs a food pantry.
Rush-Marlowe pointed out the programs make it possible for students to stay in school.
“It’s a precondition for education,” Rush-Marlowe explained. “If students are hungry, if they don’t have a place to sleep at night, education really becomes secondary.”
The report also recommends the federal government clarify its many definitions of the term “rural,” which would free up funding for hundreds of additional community colleges.
Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.