A key priority identified by practitioners, researchers and philanthropic organizations in the Rural Postsecondary Education and Workforce Training space is the advancement of a rural postsecondary research agenda. Though much attention has been dedicated to workforce training in recent years, very little research has focused on rural postsecondary education. The data that does exist is also extremely limited.
Work is now underway for a diverse working group of individuals, funded by Ascendium and brought together by Sova Solutions. The group is in the early stages of exploring the creation of a research agenda that outlines key research questions that will not only inform Ascendium’s future investments in rural research, but also lead to increased understanding of key issues in the field.
Sova is uniquely poised to facilitate the development of this agenda. This organization’s past experiences in rural education, their passion for improving the lives of learners in rural communities and their unique skillset support the design of a robust agenda. Building upon their foundational understanding, they’ve successfully recruited over 20 experts from across the nation to serve in working and advisory groups. These experts bring a variety of perspectives to assist in the agenda’s creation and include representatives from both rural two- and four-year institutions, national associations that represent these institutions and researchers with personal and professional expertise with rural issues.
“This is a thoughtful group of individuals who are all working to develop an agenda that elevates the questions and research needed to better understand how to promote success for those who live, work and study in rural places,” said Danielle Vetter, senior program officer at Ascendium.
Since February, the group has been developing an agenda that prioritizes the most important research questions. The questions will help funders, like Ascendium, to inform investment strategies designed to close equity gaps, improve student persistence, support timely degree completion and support advancement in the labor market and upward social mobility for rural learners from low-income backgrounds. They continue to explore key themes, categories and questions that have the potential to drive actionable, timely and prioritized rural postsecondary education research.
Ascendium has also funded several projects that aim to produce tools and information that help researchers act on and respond to the agenda that’s being created. The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Student Success Through Applied Research Lab is currently developing a mapping tool that identifies “rural located institutions” across the country. Additionally, the Alliance for Research on Regional Colleges is developing a formal definition of “rural serving postsecondary institution.”
Ascendium invests in high-quality research and resources to better understand rural learners and inform the field. We look forward to unveiling a field-informed list of important and timely questions for rural student success in this moment. The rural research agenda is slated for release in late summer 2021.